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Saudi Arabia- Report: Growing campaign of judicial harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders

2013-12-15

The GCHR is gravely concerned that the Saudi authorities continue, under the direct orders of senior officials within the Ministry of Interior, to systemically target human rights defenders using false or fabricated charges. Furthermore, the judiciary is being used to issue unfair judgments against human rights defenders in order to stop their peaceful and legitimate work in the field of human rights.

The following recent cases illustrate the campaign of intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders. 

Omar Al-Saeed, University Student and a Member of the Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACRPA)

On 12 December 2013, the 7th hearing of the trial of human rights defender Omar Al-Saeed was held in secret. Omar Al-Saeed was sentenced to four years in prison, three hundred lashes, and a travel ban for four years after serving his sentence.

A number of charges were made against Omar Al-Saeed, including "calling the Governing System arbitrary, repressive, a police state, oppressive and racial”, “attempts to incite the public opinion against the security services calling the latter, repressive, torturer and terrorist” and “the membership and support of the suspected and un-licensed ACRPA and its support to which a verdict was issued towards its illegitimacy and its dissolution.”

 Fawzan Al-Harbi, founding member of the ACRPA

On 04 December 2013, the first hearing of the trial of human rights defender, Fawzan Al-Harbi was held at the Criminal Court in Riyadh, and the second hearing of the trial is to be held on 26 December 2013.

The Public Prosecutor submitted to the court a long indictment that include no less than nine alleged detailed charges, including the involvement of the defender in "the formulation and preparation of statements that criticize the Saudi government, accused the judiciary and the executive on false charges, questioned the fairness of government procedures, incited citizens against the security organs, and called for inciting public action against the state authorities."

The prosecutor called for the imposition of a severe penalty on the human rights defender and that the upper limit of punishment contained in Article VI of the Cyber Crime Act issued by Royal Decree in March 2007 would be applied to him. It is worth mentioning that Article VI provides for the provision of "imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years and a fine of not more than three million rials" in relation to what is being classified as cyber crimes.

Abdulaziz Al-Shubaily, founding Member of ACRPA

On 17 December 2013, a fourth interrogation hearing for human rights defender Abdulaziz Al-Shubaily, was held at the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution in Unaizah. The date of the next interrogation session has not been announced which means it could resume at any time.

Issa Al-Hamid / the current President of ACRPA

Six interrogation hearings of human rights defender, Issa Al-Hamid, were conducted by the Buraidah City Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution. The last hearing was held on 16 December 2013, and the 7th Session will be held on 30 December 2013.

It is believed that the ongoing investigation with the two members of ACRPA, Issa Al-Hamid and Abdulaziz Al-Shubaily are solely related to their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities and their strong participation in ACRPA.

Fadhel Al-Manasif, founding member of the Adala Center for Human Rights  

On 27 November 2013, the fifth hearing of the trial of human rights defender Fadhel Al-Manasif was held at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. It was expected that a verdict would be declared. However, the General Prosecutor added a new charge which is related to a tissue found on the defender when he was searched during a court hearing which was held on 11 September 2013. The tissue had the following few sentences written on it:

"Amid the turmoil we have to look for getting together and focus on universal words that are good and the safety of the unity of our homeland."  

The defender was arrested on 1 May 2011 and was released on 11 August 2011 after he spent a period in incommunicado detention. He was re- arrested on 2 October 2011, and spent again nearly four months in incommunicado and was subjected to physical and psychological torture.

A set of alleged charges were directed against him by the General Prosecutor, including "participating in the demonstrations, writing articles in e- newspapers and in social networks to harm the state, incite the media outlets and human rights organizations through his communications with them to act against the Saudi government, participating in the set up of an human rights organization -Adala Center- active in inciting the public to come out against the guardian."

The prosecutor asked for the conviction of Fadhel Al-Manasif and the use of the upper limit of punishment contained in Article VI of Cyber Crimes Act, as well as to prevent him from traveling.

Walid Abu Al-Khair head of the Human Rights Monitor in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) 

On 29 October 2013, the Criminal Court in Jeddah sentenced human rights lawyer Walid Abu Al-Khair to three months in prison for signing a statement about the trial of Jeddah reformists and the events of Qatif, which was publicized on 5 December 2011. He signed the statement on behalf of the NGO, (MHRSA), which he heads. On 4 December 2013, Walid Abu Al-Khair filed his objection to this ruling.

The human rights lawyer faces another trial at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh in relation to a set of charges that include "Urging the International organizations to take action against the Kingdom and making false and undocumented statements to harm the reputation of the Kingdom, establishment of an unauthorized association –MHRSA- and supervising it, and the production, storage and dissemination of information that would prejudice public order."

The prosecutor requested to sentence him at the upper limit of the penalty prescribed in Article VI of the Cyber Crimes Act and shut down his websites and e- mail.

It was scheduled to hold the first hearing of this trial of on 4 November 2013, before the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, but the defender refused to appear before this court and submitted an application with a request for the two cases to be heard together due to their interdependence, asking for both of them o be heard before the Criminal Court in Jeddah. No date has been given for the consideration of his request.

Mikhlif Al-Shammari / writer and human rights defender 

On 12 December 2013 the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh held a hearing to assess the request  sent by the Court of Cassation related to the verdict against the human rights defender Mikhlif Al-Shammari, which included imprisonment of five years, a travel ban for 10 years, a ban on writing articles, accessing the Internet, and appearing in the media. The request sent by the Court of Cassation included the following:

A.  Seeking the documents and the evidences on which the judge of the Special Criminal Court reached the verdict described above.

B. Asking that the travel ban should be from the date of the expiration of the prison sentence and not from the date of the ratification of the judgment.

C. Asking for clarification from the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution as to whether his imprisonment in 2007, was due to the same articles related to the current case.

D. Asking for deletion of the word "attempt" to discredit Kingdom and replace it with the word "acting" to defame the reputation of the Kingdom.

The judge Nasser Al Harbi adjourned the trial to 31 December 2013, to consider these observations.

The Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution in the Eastern region has brought a new lawsuit against Mikhlif Al-Shammari on charges related to his social and cultural activities, such as organizing parties, seminars, visiting or meeting with  reformists, including his ceremony in Dammam on the evening of 2 March 2013 on the occasion of his release from prison. The Criminal Court in Al-Khobar considered these new charges in its first hearing which was held on 9 December 2013. Al-Shammari received during the hearing the indictment from the Judge Khalid Al-Ghamdi and 9 January 2014 has been set as the date for him to respond to the indictment.

For more information about the campaign of judicial harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders kindly see the following link:

http://gc4hr.org/news/index/country/3

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that the on-going targeting of human rights defenders with imprisonment, travel bans, and judicial harassment, which includes politically motivated charges, is a direct attempt by the Saudi authorities to eliminate the human rights movement in the Kingdom. The GCHR believes that these trials lack international standards for fair trial and are part of a trend of targeting human rights defenders and their organizations by the Saudi government.

The GCHR expresses grave concern that the Saudi authorities are using Article VI of the Cyber Crimes Act of 2007 to impose long periods of imprisonment on human rights defenders contrary to their natural right to use information technology in the field of human rights.

The GCHR Urges authorities in Saudi Arabia:
1.  To release  all detained human rights defenders and drop all charges against them immediately and unconditionally as they were targeted solely due to their peaceful and legitimate human rights;

2 . Stop all on-going trials of human rights defenders and drop all charges against them where they are targeted due to their peaceful and legitimate work in the field of human rights;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment. 

The GCHR respectfully reminds the authorities in Saudi Arabia that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.

We also wish to draw your attention in particular to Article 5 (b), which states:

Article 5(b) “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels:(b)To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups;” and to article 6(c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters.”