How Saudi Arabia silences its human rights activists

Amnesty International, 2014

 

"A security officer asked me, ‘do you have any imprisoned relatives?’ I said, yes all prisoners are my family. He replied - and I quote him- ‘Do you want to join them in prison?’ I replied, No... we want them released."

Tweet from Mohammed al-Bajadi during the protest which he attended on 20 March 2011. He was arrested the following day.

 

This briefing focuses on the cases of 11 human rights activists in Saudi Arabia who are either imprisoned or on trial and facing imprisonment. All 11 are founders or members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), an officially unlicensed independent human rights organization that campaigned for the rights of political prisoners and detainees in Saudi Arabia until the authorities ordered its closure in March 2013.

 

Five of the 11 ACPRA members are detainees held without trial or awaiting re-trial – they have been held for periods of up to four years. Three are free pending the outcome of their trials. And another three are serving prison terms of up to 15 years to which they were sentenced, in separate trials. All of their trials were unfair. They were convicted on vague charges, such as “breaking allegiance to” Saudi Arabia’s ruler and “questioning the integrity of officials,” in connection with their peaceful activism in defence of human rights in Saudi Arabia. Some of them were held in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods, denied access to lawyers and families, and tortured or otherwise ill-treated by security officials. At least one was denied legal representation at his trial.

 

Amnesty International considers all eight detained members to be prisoners of conscience and is calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally. The organization is   also calling on the authorities to drop the charges against those facing trial and ensure that the sentences and convictions of all ACPRA members are quashed.

 

Prior to its suppression, ACPRA acted as a thorn in the side of the Saudi Arabian government. ACPRA members spoke out repeatedly against the detention practices of the Saudi Arabian authorities and were especially critical of the Ministry of Interior and its feared security and intelligence branch, the General Directorate of Investigations (GDI) or al-Mabahith, whose officers wield extensive powers and are able to arrest, detain, torture and abuse those they suspect with impunity. They use these powers not only against terrorism suspects, but against virtually anyone who speaks out against the authorities, including peaceful critics such as those associated with ACPRA. Recently implemented anti-terror laws and decrees have extended a legal cover for these abuses of power where even peaceful criticism is all too readily branded as terrorism against the state.

 

The Saudi Arabian authorities are currently holding hundreds of untried political detainees, and have sentenced many others to long prison terms after unfair trials before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) or other courts. Many are alleged by the authorities to have committed violent offences, or to have supported violent and extremist armed groups such as al-Qa’ida. Others, are human rights defenders and activists who have sought to expose the abusive nature of the Saudi Arabian system of justice and to promote reforms that could bring that system into line with the requirements of international law, including human rights treaties that Saudi Arabia has ratified. By defending rights and speaking out, the ACPRA members and a small group of other courageous human rights advocates, appear to have been seen by Saudi Arabia’s rulers as challenging their authority and policies, and to have been targeted in   consequence. ACPRA, particularly, appears to have been perceived by the Saudi Arabian authorities to offer such a challenge because it espoused a philosophy of human rights anchored in Islamic law and traditions, rather than the more common human rights discourse seen in Saudi Arabia as western- oriented, and this may be the real reason the authorities have made such efforts to suppress it.

 

Recommendations

Amnesty International is calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to take the following actions without  delay:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release the ACPRA prisoners and detainees and all other prisoners of conscience – those detained or imprisoned solely on account of their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and other human rights, including rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly;

  • Ensure that the sentences and convictions are quashed and drop any outstanding charges against the ACPRA members whose cases are described here and against all other prisoners of conscience;

  • Ensure that all persons deprived of their liberty are protected from torture and other ill- treatment and are detained in facilities whose conditions satisfy the standards laid down in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners;

  • Lift the foreign travel bans in force against the ACPRA activists and other human rights activists and defenders, respect their freedom of movement and end the use of other arbitrary measures to penalize and harass them;

  • Repeal the anti-terror law and related legislation or extensively revise it in order to bring it into full conformity with international law and international human rights standards, including by adopting a definition of terrorism that does not infringe on the peaceful exercise of human rights.

 

Flogging as corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia

 

Flogging is used extensively as corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia despite it being a state party to

the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

(CAT). In 2002, the UN Committee against Torture expressly stated that the use of flogging by Saudi

Arabia violates the Convention.

Flogging in Saudi Arabia is mandatory for a number of offences and can also be used at the

discretion of the judge. Sentences can range from dozens to tens of thousands of lashes, and are

usually carried out in instalments, at intervals ranging from two weeks to one month.

The highest number of lashes imposed in a single case recorded by Amnesty International was

40,000 lashes in the case of a defendant convicted on murder charges in 2009.

A member of ACPRA, Omar al-Sa’id, has been sentenced to flogging.

 

Excerpts from ‘Saudi Arabia’s ACPRA: How the kingdom silences its human rights activists’

AI index: MDE 23/025/2014

You can download the whole report at the link below:

http://bit.ly/1vd4qE0

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