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KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA: Mass death sentences in ‘spy trial’ a travesty of justice

10 Dec 2016
[International Secretariat]
Region: KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA
Topic: Abolition of the Death Penalty

The condemning of 15 people to death by the Specialized Criminal Court today after a grossly unfair trial is a travesty of justice and a serious violation of human rights, said Amnesty International.

The men were charged with a series of offences including “high treason” with some facing several other ludicrous charges which should not be considered criminal offences such as “supporting protests”.

Some told the court that they were threatened with solitary confinement and that they would be banned from having any contact with their families if they did not sign “confession” documents. They said they were told that if they refused to sign these “confessions” that their families would be imprisoned and locked in cells next to them.

After almost three years in detention were suddenly brought before the the ourt in Riyadh - Saudi Arabia’s secretive security and counter-terrorism court in February 2016. Most of them attended their first session without any lawyers and the rest met their lawyers briefly for the first time in court. Some of the defendants had to prepare their defence themselves.

While the General Prosecutor had almost three years to build the case against the 32 defendants, their lawyers were given less than a month to prepare their defence after the first hearing.

The lawyers were initially denied access to court documents and key evidence relied upon for the convictions, including the forced “confessions” of the men.

During the first session in February 2016, the 32 defendants were handed a list of charges that was nearly 100 pages long. Most of the defendants were accused of offences such as “high treason” for either setting up or joining a spy cell.

However, some of the other charges are not recognizably criminal offences under international standards. These include “supporting protests”, “spreading the Shi’a faith” for example by setting up a Shi’a centre in Mecca, “possessing banned books and videos”, “inciting the public to break allegiance to the ruler and harm his reputation and the reputation of the royal family” among other charges.

One defendant, who is among those sentenced to death, even faced charges for possessing articles written by Mikhlif al-Shammari a prominent human rights defender and advocate for Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a Muslim community who was sentenced to prison and 200 lashes for his activism.

It is not the first time a Saudi Arabian court has issued death sentences after an unfair mass trial. On 1 June 2016, 14 Shi’a Muslim men were sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court after a trial which relied on “confessions” extracted through torture for a series of offences.

The lawyers said they would boycott the trial in protest the manner in which the trial was being conducted including the fact that they were not allowed to visit their clients, view evidence and prepare their defence adequately. The lawyers also objected to the “media war” waged against the defendants. The Saudi Arabian authorities do not allow any critical or independent media to operate in the Kingdom.

6 December 2016
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

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