“The road is still long” A UN Symposium Reviewing the Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Saudi Arabia

Despite the reforms’ propaganda announced by the Saudi authorities over the past few years, many voices and human rights organizations continue to highlight the ongoing violations in Saudi Arabia regarding the human rights file, and events are still organized to expose the violations and crimes of this regime of a kingdom from the Middle Ages.

The European-Saudi Foundation for Human Rights, in cooperation with the international human rights organization “Reprieve”, organized a human rights symposium: “The death penalty in Saudi Arabia: The road is still long”, on Thursday, March 18, 2021, through Zoom, with the participation of a number of international and local human rights defenders and the families of the detainees.

During the event, concerns were raised about the policies of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, who clings to execution and insists on tarnishing the country’s record with the blood of innocent people, despite the claims of reform he made before the international community.

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The Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Agnes Callamard, accused the Saudi regime of carrying out the death penalty without regard to international laws and prohibitions imposed on countries that use this punishment. In her speech, the UN rapporteur warned that Riyadh is carrying out the execution on charges that are not of the most serious, and that do not require this punishment, such as drug-related accusations, where a number of foreigners have fallen victim to this punishment amid depriving them of their legitimate rights to defend themselves, to appoint a lawyer, or even to be deported to their country to prevent their execution.

As secrecy is an authoritarian policy that is followed in Saudi, the UN rapporteur indicated that the number of detainees threatened by execution is still unknown, in light of the lack of transparency in the country.

 As for the execution of minors, Callamard pointed out that the Saudi authorities are still threatening the minor detainees despite the recent promises made, far from the law.

The case of the three detained minors whose sentences were changed from death to ten years imprisonment was raised, and it does not indicate that the authorities have achieved justice.

The UN rapporteur criticized the authoritarian violations, as the authority takes death sentences for expressing opinion based on confessions extracted under torture and coercion, and she mentioned the case of Abbas al-Hassan and the minor Mujtaba Al-Suwaiket, and referred to the cases of the detained researcher Sheikh Hassan Al-Maliki and preacher Salman Al-Awda.

Allegations of reform

The legal advisor at the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights, lawyer Taha Al-Hajji, revealed that all the promises made by the Saudi authority regarding the protection of all minors from execution did not address children who face execution with retribution and hudud cases, warning that in Riyadh “The use of the death penalty is expanding, and the era of King Salman and his son witnessed 800 executions, with mass executions that were never witnessed before.”

Al-Hajji stated that the Saudi authority “uses extremist understandings of Sharia, especially against prisoners of conscience, and also uses discretionary punishments, in which the judgment is arbitrarily up to the judge’s discretion”.

He raised concerns about the nature of criminality in the country, where the authority kills individuals and activists in other ways than execution, including extrajudicial killings and through neglect and torture in prisons. He also stressed that Riyadh “has always preached at the international level that it does not execute children, and this is what makes the recent celebrations to stop murder sentences against minors suspicious.” He asserted that none of the authoritarian promises could be trusted.

 Baroness Helena Kennedy, director of the Institute for Human Rights of the International Baroness Kennedy, asked several questions during her administration of the seminar, and inquired about the “recent steps taken by the Saudi authority, including those related to women’s rights and the moratorium on death sentences against minors and whether these steps are sufficient? She wondered about the seriousness of the regime in doing what it claims before the international community, and the impact of these claims on the legal reality?

 The sister of the Jordanian detainee sentenced to death, Hussein Abu Al-Khair, Zainab Abu Al-Khair, revealed the torture on her brother’s body and how he was forced to sign written confessions, and the inhuman treatment he received, how his family did not know that he was detained, until months passed. She discussed the violations that he brother suffered from, not the least of which is the denial of his appointment of a lawyer to defend him.

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The son of the preacher Salman Al-Awda, academic researcher Dr. Abdullah Al-Awda addressed his father’s case due to his tweets, and confirmed that there is no justification for threatening him with the death penalty that he currently faces, stressing out that the authority did not change the execution request against his father despite all the promises made.

Executive Director of “Reprieve” Maya Faw, accused Saudi of being among the countries that implement the death penalty most in the world, and that it executes those who express their opinion in peaceful demonstrations.

She denounced making promises without implementing them, especially with regarding minors. She also raised the case of the minor Abdullah Al-Huwaiti, who is facing the death penalty on charges that took place when he was 14 years old, and she expressed fears for his life.

The final statement of the symposium stated that “the sword of execution that threatens the lives of dozens of detainees, and is raised against the youths behind bars, is being used by the Saudi regime which does not hesitate to threaten all detainees with opinions, even if there are minors among them who are held accountable for accusations and fabrications used as evidence to convict them, punish and threaten them with execution”.

More: Abdulaziz Al-Sunaidi is on Hunger Strike due to Ill-treatment after Six Years of Arbitrary Detention

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