CONCERNS about human rights in Saudi Arabia were raised in a briefing by Amnesty International and released ahead of Monday’s visit to the feudal state by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of execution in the world.
It applies the death penalty for a wide range of crimes, including drug offences, apostasy, sorcery and witchcraft.
At least 17 people, including eight foreign nationals, have already been executed in 2013 – eight for drug-related offences. Around 80 people were executed in the country in 2012, following at least 82 people in 2011. These two years saw a large jump on the death toll in 2010, when 27 were known to have been executed (though the true figure may have been higher).
Seven men convicted of the armed robbery of jewellery shops are at immediate risk of execution.
One of the men has been sentenced to be crucified after execution, meaning his dead body is likely to be tied to a pole in a public square to act as a supposed deterrent to others. Two of the group may have been juveniles at the time of the alleged crime (the execution of juvenile offenders is forbidden under international law).
The seven were detained for over three years, before a trial which used “confessions” allegedly extracted under torture. The men were not allowed legal representation and were denied the right to appeal. Their executions were originally set for 5 March but were postponed after King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud reportedly intervened to review their case.
Amnesty is appealing to King Abdullah and other Saudi authorities to cancel plans for the men’s executions entirely and to allow a fresh trial without recourse to the death penalty.
Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan domestic worker who was only 17 at the time of her alleged crime, was beheaded on 9 January in Dawadmi, a town west of the capital Riyadh. Amnesty and the Sri Lankan government had urged King Abdullah – who ratified her death sentence – to show clemency in her case, given Nafeek’s young age at the time of the alleged crime as well as concerns she received an unfair trial. Amnesty said the execution showed the country to be ‘woefully out of step’ with international standards on the death penalty.
Freedom and speech and protests.
Protests are banned in Saudi Arabia and criticism of the state is not tolerated. Those who publicly criticise the government are often held incommunicado without charge, sometimes in solitary confinement, and denied access to lawyers or the courts to challenge the legality of their detention.
When the authorities do press charges, it is sometimes with vaguely-worded offences that cover conduct that should not be criminalised, such as ‘disobeying the ruler’.
In January six jailed reformists and ten others convicted with them were offered a royal ‘pardon’ on the condition they sign pledges renouncing their public activism.
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry reportedly told the 16 that for the pardon to be carried out, they must first sign pledges to avoid repeating their offences or engaging in public activism, and to thank the King.
Most of the group were held in pre-trial detention for up to three and half years before even being officially charged.
Torture is rife in Saudi Arabia, with interrogators aware they can commit their crimes without fear of punishment. Abuse is also encouraged by the ready acceptance by courts of ‘confessions’ forced out of detainees using beatings, electric shocks and other forms of torture and other ill-treatment.
Torture is also frequently used to punish detainees for refusing to ‘repent’ or to force them to make undertakings not to criticise the government.
Methods of torture include: beatings with sticks, punching, suspension from the ceiling or cell doors by the ankles or wrists, the application of electric shocks to the body, and prolonged sleep deprivation.
In Saudi Arabia the justice system and information about detainees, including prisoners of conscience, is generally shrouded in secrecy. Unfair trials are commonplace. Defendants are generally denied legal counsel, and in many cases, they and their families are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them. Court hearings are often held behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, toppled president Hosni Mubarak, awaiting trial over his role in the deaths of protesters, believes Egyptians should rally around his Islamist successor and end violent protests, his lawyer said on Monday.
President Mohamed Mursi, twice jailed by Mubarak before he himself was overthrown on February 11, 2011, is the ‘elected president, people should rally around him,’ the former dictator told his lawyer Farid a-Deeb. Mubarak is sad and frustrated’ by recurring violent protests around the country targeting the Islamist president, Deeb said.
The 84-year-old had been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the deaths of protesters during the 18-day uprising in 2011 that ended his three decade reign. But a court overthrew that verdict and ordered a new trial which is set to start on April 13.
Mubarak also spoke out against violent protests, although he believed Egyptians have the right to peaceful demonstrations, Deeb said. ‘He still considers those who attacked police stations in 2011 were thugs and criminals,’ Deeb added, referring to protesters who torched police stations across the country during the 2011 revolt. Roughly 850 people were killed in the uprising.
Mubarak has suffered a number of health scares in prison that prompted his transfer to a military hospital. Deeb said his health has ‘improved.’
Mursi, who won elections last June on the Muslim Brotherhood’s ticket, had pledged new trials for former regime officials including Mubarak implicated in the protesters’ deaths.
Mursi’s presidency has been plagued by unrest and deadly clashes between protesters and police. Port Said, a city on the Suez Canal, has been in open revolt against the Islamist. It is believed that Mubarak is seeking to encourage the state apparatus to get completely behind the Muslim Brotherhood government.
Discontent in Egypt’s police ranks has boiled over into an unprecedented strike, with officers saying they will refuse orders until they are no longer used as political pawns, adding to the problems of the President.
Accused of excessive use of force by the opponents of Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood, police officers say they feel despised by the people when they are simply following orders – and they will not take any more.
‘We are suspending our work indefinitely because we refuse to take responsibility for the mistakes of a government that wants to get involved in political conflicts,’ police Colonel Hassan Mostafa said in Port Said. All of society is against us, it considers the demonstrators (killed in clashes) to be martyrs, and we don’t even have the right to defend ourselves,’ he added.
The police, particularly the Central Security Forces (CSF), have been engaged in violent and deadly street clashes with protesters, turning the public even more against an already reviled institution long accused of abuses. Mubarak from his deathbed is telling them to stand fast behind the regime.