Reform activists in Saudi Arabia must receive fair appeal hearings
Sixteen men who were given lengthy prison sentences after they tried to set up a human rights organization in Saudi Arabia should all receive fair appeal hearings, Amnesty International said today as they wait for their cases to be heard.The group including several prominent reform activists, who were sentenced from five to 30 years in November 2011, submitted their appeals to the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh on Monday. All were convicted of breaking allegiance with the King. Most were also convicted of money laundering among other charges.One of the defendants, former judge Dr Suliaman al-Rashudi, was convicted on charges including possessing banned articles by Professor Madawi Al-Rasheed, an academic at UK university King’s College London."Some of these charges appear to be criminalizing the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression, including advocacy of political change. In these cases, the convictions should be quashed," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s interim Director for the Middle East and North Africa."Even the seemingly more serious charges on which some of the 16 men were convicted, such as money laundering, need to be re-examined carefully, as the convictions followed a grossly unfair trial."Any appeal trial must be in line with international fair trial standards and this can only happen if all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in pre-trial detention are thoroughly investigated beforehand."Nine of the men – including activists, lawyers and academics – were detained in February 2007 after they met to discuss setting up a human rights association, and had circulated a petition calling for political reform.At the time the Interior Ministry said the men had been arrested for collecting money to support terrorism, which they have denied.Seven other men were subsequently detained because of their alleged links with one of the advocates of reform, Dr Saud al-Hashimi.Many of the men have been held in prolonged solitary confinement, at times in incommunicado detention. At least two of them have alleged they were tortured in detention, one of them saying they were forced into a “confession” as a result. There are concerns that others have suffered similar treatment. All 16 men were charged in August 2010, some three and a half years after the group of nine were detained. Lawyers and families were denied details of the charges against the men for months and were denied access to many of the court proceedings.Fourteen of the Saudi Arabian men face travel bans after the completion of their sentences, while a Yemeni and Syrian face deportation upon their release.In a recent report, Saudi Arabia: Repression in the name of security, Amnesty International documented a new wave of repression in the Kingdom as authorities cracked down on protesters and reformists on security grounds. The report described how hundreds of people have been arrested for demonstrating, while the government has drafted an anti-terror law that would effectively criminalize dissent as a "terrorist crime” and further strip away rights from those accused of such offences.