In Saudi Arabia, human rights violations are legitimized through the ‘Specialized Criminal Court’
The government of Saudi Arabia has deployed all resources to work on its image abroad, investing millions of dollars in a public relations campaign in the hope of attracting foreign investments into the country. But behind this campaign lies another reality that is starkly different: one of cruel and relentless repression targeting scores of Saudi individuals, and much of this is being legitimized through the politically instrumentalized ‘Specialized Criminal Court’.
Our research shows that through this court, which was initially set up as an anti-terror court, peaceful activists, religious clerics and members of the Shi’a minority are often subjected to grossly unfair trials, given lengthy prison sentences, and even sentenced to death based on so-called “confessions” that are extracted under torture. Several individuals have already been executed. This court is one of the state’s most powerful tools for muzzling critical voices in Saudi Arabia.
Loujain al-Hathloul is one of these voices. She is one of the most prominent Saudi women activists who fought to end the driving ban on women. She had been languishing in jail since May 2018. In 2020, she was transferred to the Specialized Criminal Court and charged with “spying with foreign parties” and “conspiring against the kingdom” for promoting women’s rights and calling for the end of the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia. She was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison and a travel ban of five years.
Following public pressure, Loujain al-Hathloul was released on 10 February 2021. However, she was released conditionally and will continue to face the risk of re-arrest and trial at the Specialized Criminal Court if found to be violating the conditions of her probation. Her case is just one example of how the Specialized Criminal Court is instrumentalized to silence and punish peaceful activists.