SHAFAQNA- Saudi Arabia is using its anti-terror court as a tool to “systematically silence dissent”.
A new report published by Amnesty International today exposes how despite all their rhetoric of reforms, the Saudi authorities are using the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) as a weapon to systematically silence dissent. Alongside the report, the organisation is also launching a campaign calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders detained for their peaceful expression.
The report, titled “Muzzling critical voices: Politicized trials before Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court,” documents what it says “the chilling impact” of the prosecutions of rights defenders, writers, economists, journalists, religious clerics, reformists, and political activists.
The rights watchdog said it investigated 95 cases heard at the special court in Riyadh over the last nearly five years, lath told.
“Charges used in proceedings in the court frequently include ‘disobeying the ruler,’ ‘questioning the integrity of officials and the judicial system,’ ‘inciting disorder by calling for demonstrations’ and ‘forming an unlicensed organization,’” the report said.
Extensive examination of court documents, government statements and national legislation, as well as interviews with activists, lawyers and individuals close to the cases documented were included in the report.
According to a report released by human rights watchdog Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia’s Shia Muslim minority who have suffered grossly unfair trials before the SCC and received harsh sentences, including the death penalty, under vague counter-terror and anti-cybercrime laws.
Several Saudi Arabian Shia Muslims, including young men tried for “crimes” they were accused of having committed when they were under the age of 18 are at imminent risk of execution following grossly unfair trials before the SCC. At least 28 Saudi Arabians from the Shia minority have been executed since 2016, many of whom were sentenced to death by the SCC based solely on torture-tainted ‘confessions.’
Amnesty International closely reviewed eight SCC trials of 68 Shia defendants, the majority of whom were prosecuted for their participation in anti-government protests, and of 27 individuals prosecuted for their peaceful expression and human rights activism.
One of the most striking failings of the SCC in the trials reviewed by Amnesty International is its unquestioning reliance on torture-tainted “confessions”. At least 20 Shia men tried by the SCC have been sentenced to death on the basis of such “confessions,” with 17 of them already executed.
Since 2011, over 100 Saudi Arabian Shia Muslims have been brought before the SCC in relation to both peaceful criticism of the government in speeches or on social media and participation in anti-government protests. They have been tried on vague and varied charges ranging from organization or support for protests, to alleged involvement in violent attacks and espionage for Iran.
Every stage of the SCC’s judicial process is tainted with human rights abuses, from the denial of access to a lawyer, to incommunicado detention, to convictions based solely on so-called ‘confessions’ extracted through torture.
The SCC was established in October 2008 to try individuals accused of terror-related crimes. Since 2011, it has been systematically used to prosecute individuals on vague charges which often equate peaceful political activities with terrorism-related crimes. The counter-terror law, which has overly broad and vague definitions of “terrorism” and of a “terrorist crime”, contains provisions which criminalize peaceful expression of views, Amnesty reported.
Alongside the report, the rights watchdog is also launching a campaign calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders detained for their peaceful expression in the Muslim kingdom.
The stinging criticism of the oil-rich Persian Gulf country comes as Saudi Arabia’s rhetoric about reforms, which increased after the appointment of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, stands in stark contrast to the reality of the human rights situation in the country.
In March and September 2019, the UN Human Rights Council adopted unprecedented joint statements on Saudi Arabia setting out a number of benchmarks for urgent human rights reforms. None of these have been met.