Saudi Government Defends Imminent Protest-Related Executions

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Saudi Government Defends Imminent Protest-Related Executions

WASHINGTON - Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice has released a rare response to criticism over the imminent execution of 14 Saudi nationals on protest-related charges - including juveniles and a man with disabilities. The statement, released today, makes a number of apparently false claims about the trial of the 14.

The Saudi government is facing criticism over plans to execute the 14, who were arrested in the wake of protests and sentenced to death on protest-related charges in a secretive counter-terrorism court. Among the group is a juvenile, Mujtaba al Sweikat, who had a place to study at university in Michigan, but was arrested at the airport en route to the USA; and Munir Adam, who has disabilities. Both men were tortured into making false confessions, which were used against them at trial.  Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the 14 protest-related death sentences, meaning the executions are now imminent.
 
In a statement released today, Sheikh Mansour Al-Qafari, the spokesman of the Ministry of Justice, responded to criticism over the standard of the trial of the 14. The statement claimed that all trials before the controversial Specialised Criminal Court - which sentenced the 14 to death - meet international standards for fairness and due process, and allow for access to lawyers, the preparation of a defence, and even access to the trials by media and human rights observers.
 
The public statement on the executions is at odds with assessments by the UN, as well as rights groups such as human rights organization Reprieve. Reprieve has established that at least one defendant, Mujtaba, was never permitted to see a lawyer; in Munir's case, no evidence against him was presented at trial. Mujtaba told the court at trial that he was tortured into a false confession, but this claim was dismissed by the judges and never investigated.
 
In November 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said of the Specialized Criminal Court that “such a special court, specifically designed to deal with so-called terrorism cases, raises serious concerns about its lack of independence and due procedure.” The UN Committee Against Torture has accused judges of the Court of “repeatedly refus[ing] to act on claims made by defendants facing terrorism charges that they had been subjected to torture”.
 
Today’s Saudi statement also claimed that death sentences are only handed down for the most serious crimes. However, the Saudi authorities continue to carry out executions for non-violent alleged crimes, including political protest and drug offences. Some of the 14 men were convicted of offences such as using mobile phones to organise demonstrations, and using social media.
 
Commenting, Maya Foa – Director of Reprieve – said: “Saudi Arabia’s attempts to justify these 14 unlawful executions are appalling. This statement is a serious mischaracterisation of the trial process against the 14 men, and it is risible to claim that a protester like Mujtaba – who never even saw a lawyer – received a fair trial. Governments close to Saudi Arabia – including the Trump Administration and the UK – must urgently call on the Kingdom to halt these executions.”

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Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.

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