VIENNA: A Saudi-funded centre for interfaith dialogue announced on Friday that it was relocating its headquarters from the Austrian capital Vienna, following years of political controversy over its presence.

The King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) was founded in 2012 and critics have long said it offered the government in Riyadh a way to gloss over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

In 2019 Austrian MPs voted to demand the centre be shut down, prompted by a case in which an 18-year-old was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for alleged crimes committed when he was a child.

In a statement on Friday KAICIID Secretary General Faisal bin Muaammar did not give the reasons behind the decision to leave, saying simply that KAICIID had “decided to relocate the Centre from Vienna”.

“Consultations are under way with potential new host countries who have shown interest in headquartering KAICIID,” he said.

The centre was opened with great pomp by UN chief Ban Ki-moon and senior figures from the world’s main religions.

Its founding treaty was signed by Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia, with the Holy See participating as a founding observer.

The Austrian Greens, who have been in government with the centre-right People’s Party (OeVP)since early last year, have long been critical of the centre.

“As long as human rights and freedom of expression and religion are trampled on in Saudi Arabia, there’s no place in Austria for a centre claiming to advocate for tolerance,” the Greens’ foreign affairs’ spokeswoman Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic said recently.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2021

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