Following President Donald's Trump recent visit to Saudi Arabia, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross came under fire for his tone-deaf remarks in which he lauded the lack of public protest he witnessed while in the country.
A report published by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Tuesday offers a worrying explanation for why public dissent is so hard to find in the oil-rich kingdom.
"Court documents show that all defendants, including the 14 sentenced to death, were held in pretrial detention for more than two years before their trial began."
—Human Rights Watch
In what Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch called a ploy to "settle scores and crush dissent under the guise of combating ‘terrorism,'" Saudi Arabia is reportedly set to execute 14 protestors following trials rife with inequities and abuse.
"Court documents show that all defendants, including the 14 sentenced to death, were held in pretrial detention for more than two years before their trial began," noted Human Rights Watch. "In nearly all the trial judgments analyzed, defendants retracted their 'confessions,' saying they were coerced in circumstances that in some cases amounted to torture, including beatings and prolonged solitary confinement. The court rejected all torture allegations without investigating the claims."
The death sentences were upheld by Saudi Arabia's Specialized Criminal Court, which is responsible for trying terrorism cases. Human Rights Watch characterized the court as "notorious," and concluded that any ruling it disseminates should be rejected.
Of those set to be executed, four were deemed guilty of crimes committed when they were teenagers. All 14 are Shiites, a persecuted religious minority in the kingdom. The report notes that there are 38 Saudi Shiites "currently sentenced to death."
"The sham court proceedings that led to death sentences for 38 Shia men and boys brazenly flout international fair trial standards," Lynn Maalouf, the director of research at Amnesty International in the Middle East, said in a statement. "The sentences should immediately be quashed."
This conclusion comes after Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International examined a number of court judgments issued by the Specialized Criminal Court between 2013 and 2016.
Most of the judgments, the organizations found, "were against men and children accused of protest-related crimes following mass demonstrations in 2011 and 2012."
Saudi Arabia has of late become a frequent topic of political conversation in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
As Common Dreams reported on Monday, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the British Labour Party, has been pressuring Prime Minister Theresa May to release a study that reportedly implicates Saudi Arabia in the spread of violent extremism.
In the United States, President Donald Trump was sharply criticized recently for his lavish visit to the kingdom, during which he announced many massive "deals"—including an arms deal that Brookings deemed "fake news" in an analysis published on Monday—and failed to confront the regime over its flagrant and persistent violations of human rights.
"Dozens of human rights defenders and activists," Human Rights Watch concluded in its annual report on the kingdom, are currently serving "long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms."
Ross doesn’t seem to know anything about police states. https://t.co/F2UzW6kX5r
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) May 22, 2017