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The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights held a seminar event in the German capital of Berlin on 19th April 2016, entitled “100 Day from the largest mass execution in the history of Saudi Arabia: legal transgressions and future risks”.
‘Democracy and Human Rights House’ hosted the symposium. The esteemed panelists included: Saudi human rights lawyer Taha AlHajji, a founding member of Al-Adala Center for human rights and lawyer of a number of those executed and those who are at risk of imminent execution. Wolfgang Buettner from Human Rights Watch, and Kate Higham from Reprieve completed the expert panel, which was which was chaired by Zena Aleisa on behalf of ESOHR.
Wolfgang, thanked ESOHR and stressed the importance of such an organization, as it was set up by Saudi activists and has good links with the people in the ground.
Wolfgangs intervention on firmed that according to HRW analysis, not all of the 47 executed individuals were all terrorists and that among them were in fact activists and human rights defenders, and went on to give a detailed cases study of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and minor Ali Al-Rebh, in order to illustrate their peaceful activity and wrongful labeling as terrorists. Buttner touched upon future strategies that HRW are exploring to protect human rights in Saudi Arabia, including activating such as greater engagement with social media.
Reprieves representative, Kate Higham, discussed trends and patterns in the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, and confirmed that the organization’s research found that many of the executions were based on of non-violent charges, which is not in accordance with international laws which states the death penalty can only be applied for the ‘most serious crimes’. Higham pointed to the greater role that should played by allies to Saudi Arabia, in order to protect the rights of Human.
Lawyer Taha al-Haji then gave an intervention about the judicial system in Saudi Arabia based on his own firsthand knowledge from working within the system. He began bystating that in death penalty cases that violations begin from the moment of arrest, citing the violence used by the security forcesin the arrest of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr by shooting him in the leg;and confirmed that Sheikh Nimr underwent intensive interrogation and questioning began whilst he was still in hospital undergoing treatment.
Al-Hajji said that upon initial detention, detainees in Saudi Arabia are placed incommunicado, prevented from communicating with the outside world, and that they can also remain in solitary confinement for several months (sometimes 3 months, sometimes 10 months).During this times, he stressed thatthis is a high risk time as many of the detainees are subjected to torture, where they are made to sign forced confessions by the investigator.
With regards to the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), the lawyer pointed out that the referral of cases to the court frequently delayed and some stay in detention for years. He stressed that the courts are not independent and that the SCC was created for the purpose of suppression of civilian activists, and its lack of independence is evident as it belong to the Ministry of Interior and all its decisions passed must be through the Minister of Interior and need his consent.
Lawyer Taha pointed out that people who face execution in Saudi Arabia face a lot of obstacles as well, in addition to the prosecutor, the detainee faces media campaigns carried out by the authorities, in which pro-Saudi media launch biased campaigns, and also stated that the official national human rights commission is not neutral and also acts in a negative manner towards the detainee. There is no presumption of innocence, instead the media, the prosecutor and the national human rights commission treat them as guilty from the outset.
Regarding the role of the lawyer, Alhaji pointed out that it is theatrical, as the lawyers requests are completely ignored and he cannot communicate or gain access to his client. And gave an example about the case Ali al-Nimr (who was one of his clients), he stated they were unable to gain access to their client Ali during all stages of his detention and the trial.
He also stressed that there is a complete lack of transparency regarding court trials, as lawyer were not informed of the dates of court sessions, and on many occasions they learned about the court sessions of their clients in the media, or by accident.
The seminar, which diplomats journalists attended, noted that there are about 55 prisoners at risk of execution, including 12 minors.
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