Six jailed reformists in Saudi Arabia must be released immediately and unconditionally, Amnesty International reiterated after they and 10 others convicted with them were offered a royal “pardon” on the condition they sign pledges renouncing their public activism.
On Saturday, activists, including a lawyer for one of the reformists, circulated information about the pardon for the 16 men, who had been found guilty in November 2011 on a range of serious charges related to their peaceful human rights activism.
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry has reportedly told the 16 men that for the pardon to be carried out, they must first sign pledges to not repeat their offences or engage in public activism, and to thank the King.
“Placing such ludicrous conditions on a pardon defeats the very purpose of issuing one in the first place,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
So far, six of the reformists have reportedly said they refuse to sign the pledge and continue to be detained. They include Dr Suliaman al-Rashudi, Dr Saud al-Hashimi, Saif al-Din al-Sharif, Dr Musa al-Qirni, Abdul Rahman al-Shumayri and Abdul Rahman Khan.
“The six men still detained are prisoners of conscience who were imprisoned solely on the basis of their peaceful activism – they must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Luther.
The 16 men, many of whom are professionals, include prominent reform advocates who attempted to set up a human rights association in Saudi Arabia.
Most of the group were held in pre-trial detention for up to three and half years before even being officially charged.
At least two of the men were alleged to have been tortured in detention. Many of the men had been held in prolonged solitary confinement, at times in incommunicado detention.
In November 2011 the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital Riyadh, which was set up to deal with terrorism cases, handed them lengthy sentences ranging from five to 30 years’ imprisonment. They were convicted of charges that included forming a secret organization, attempting to seize power, incitement against the King, financing terrorism, and money laundering.
Trial proceedings in their cases were grossly unfair. Lawyers and families were denied details of the charges against the men for months and were also denied access to many of the court proceedings.
Fourteen of the men also face travel bans following their prison sentences.
“The case of these 16 men seems to form part of a troubling pattern in Saudi Arabia where the authorities have clamped down on peaceful activists merely because they had the temerity to express dissent,” said Luther.
“Everyone in Saudi Arabia must have their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association protected.”