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Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution, which reports directly to King Salman, continues to demand horrific punishments for Sheikh Salman Al-Ouda. On September 4, 2018, the prosecution called for his execution during the first session of an unjust trial, which is the first in a series of trials following a wave of arrests in September 2017.
The state media reported that the prosecution has brought forth 37 different charges against Sheikh Al-Ouda, and demanded the death penalty. Al-Ouda’s son, Dr. Abdullah Al-Ouda, confirmed that the charges included: failing to invoke God’s blessing on the ruler in an adequate manner, calling the Saudi government an authoritarian regime, belonging to the International Union of Muslim Scholars, being involved in foundingthe Prophet Muhammad Aid Association in Kuwait, possession of banned books, corresponding with persons who insult the government, and failure to report these persons.
Meanwhile, a pro-government website mentions the followingcharges:
- Sowed corruption on earth through repeated attempts to undermine the nation; spreading sedition and dissent in the land; inciting the people against their rulers and provoking civil unrest; connections with certain individuals and organizations; holding meetings and conferences both in the Kingdom and abroad; and carrying out the aforementioned activities with the intent of furthering the terrorist Brotherhood agenda against the nation and its rulers.
- Calling for regime change in Saudi Arabia and for a caliphate among the Arab nations and espousing these views further through the oversight of the “Al-Nahda Forum” whichbrings youth together to overthrow Arab regimes, and which he convened several times in various countries with thinkers and intellectuals;givinglectures inciting sedition.
- Calling for and inciting revolution within the Kingdom and supporting revolutions in other Arab countries through promoting materials that support revolution and depict the suffering of the people, andfocusing on negative aspects of internal Saudi affairs, particularly regarding freedom of expression and the injustices faced by prisoners.
- Joining international religious associations and unions in violation of the approach espoused by senior religious scholars, with the intent of destabilizing Arab nations and supporting revolutions, defections and resistance against governments;rallying under the leadership of an individual designated as a terrorist (Yusuf al-Qaradawi); and assuming the position of assistant secretary of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.
- Inciting public opinion, stoking sedition and inflaming society, especially among imprisoned persons, on security issues, and demanding the release of prisoners in the international press.
Sheikh Al-Ouda has not been offered the most basic of legal rights from the moment he was detained and throughout his pre-trial detention.The conditions for a fair trial are not merely limited to what takes place after the trial is convened, but must also include the provision of various legal rights from the time the accused person is detained until the start of the trial.
Sheikh al-Ouda has thus been deprived of his basic rights, and imprisoned without an arrest warrant, fair trial, or any tangible and concrete evidence. In the wake of the political dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Saudi government has persecuted many political figures under many of the same charges. Sheikh al-Ouda was deprived of the right to access information pertaining to his legal case and was only able to find out the date of his trial after calling his family, who had found out the dates they were supposed to appear by chance, after calling the court to check on the status of the case. Neither the court nor the prison had previously taken the initiative to inform them of the date.
Sheikh Al-Ouda was likewise denied his right to legal counsel during all of the procedures that took place before the trial, and more specifically, was required to appear for interrogation without a lawyer, which gave the interrogators the opportunity to employ forms of coercion and abuse in order to produce criminal charges. He was also prevented on multiple occasions from making contact with the outside world, either in the form of phone calls or visits from his family or a lawyer. Al-Ouda was furthermore denied the right to appear before a judge in an expeditious manner, which violates international law as well as some local laws.
After being detained, Al-Ouda was not permitted to challenge the legality of his detention; the detention could not be appealed and neither he nor any party representing him – such as his family or attorney – had any official information about the charges before the trial. Al-Ouda should have been in possession of this information in order to be able to challenge the legality of his detention, and to verify that the accusations were not malicious, politically motivated, or fabricated after he was arrested.He was also subject to inhumane conditions and pressure, and he asserted that he was not treated with dignity at various stages and exposed to forms of humiliation and neglect of his health.
Furthermore, the Specialized Criminal Court, which was created in 2008, lacks the jurisdiction necessary for it to be legitimate, and does not allow for appeals of court proceedings or sentences issued by the court, since it was ostensibly created to try persons engaged in violent terrorist activity. However, the court later expanded and now persecutes nonviolent detainees,political prisoners, human rights advocates, protestors, and children. Likewise, the king’s oversight deprives the court of its independence, since the king can appoint or remove whomever he likes from the Supreme Judicial Council,which is responsible for all judicial matters in the country.
It has also been repeatedly observed that there are unequal opportunities given to the defendant and the Public Prosecutor in the trial. For example, when the Public Prosecutor appeared at the first session and brought 37 different charges against Al-Ouda (as reported by state media),Al-Ouda was there although he had not previously been made aware of the charges. This is despite the fact that Al-Ouda should have appeared before the judge having been already made aware of the charges against him, with full readiness to defend himself, and with the assistance of legal counsel. Due to the mobilization of state media for the king’s purposes, and the executive agencies’ stranglehold on the detainee, the accused was painted as a consummate criminal without any supposition of innocence until proven guilty. This is in addition to the coercive pressures exerted on pre-trial detainees by the executive agencies, specifically in al-Mabahith [state security] prisons. Sheikh Al-Ouda was also deprived of his right to a trial open to the public and attended by neutral observers.
All of these violations demonstrate that Al-Ouda’s case lacked the conditions necessary for a fair trial, and that the sentence that was subsequently issued is therefore not legal and legitimate.
Sheikh Al-Ouda (b. 1956) is over 60 years of age, and thus should receive the special treatment appropriate to the elderly, in accordance with the resolution published by the United Nations in December 2011, with the goal of preventing mistreatment of older people and their exposure to suffering, which renders the violations against Al-Ouda and his family all the more heinous.
The European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights has tracked dozens of previous human rights cases in which the Public Prosecution has sought the death penalty. In these cases, there is a serious risk the execution will be carried out, given that the government agencies that oversee Al-Ouda’s case are not independent and report directly to King Salman bin Abdulaziz. The state security apparatus that detained Al-Ouda was also established by the king and reports directly to the him, the judges are appointed by the king, and the Public Prosecutor likewise is directly connected to the king. All of these mechanisms and individuals are completely under the control of King Salman, and thus this is merely a “show” trial; its outcome will be subject to the whims of the state.
The failure of the Specialized Criminal Court to carry out fair legal proceedings and deliver justice is widely recognized. The Court employs the 2017 Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing in its trials, a law which has been continuously used to prosecute activists, political detainees, and proponents of reform. The law has been sharply criticized as it was drafted in an unjust manner that was inconsistent with the standards of international law. Likewise, the judges on the Specialized Criminal Court frequently ignore the lawyers defending the detained persons and issue death sentences based upon statements obtained under conditions of torture. In one such case, the political detainee Zaher Al-Basri was beheaded in a mass execution alongside Yousef al-Meshekhis, Amjad al-Moaibed, and Mahdi al-Sayegh.
The European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights believes that the call for Sheikh Salman Al-Ouda’s execution has occurredwithin the context of mounting persecution of the Saudi people. Since King Salman took power and expanded his son’s powers, under the pretext of strengthening national security, he has criminalized the expression of any opinion that is at odds with official governmental positions.
Al-Ouda’s pending execution adds to the number of prisoners facing the death penalty whose cases have been observed, and who are stuck atthe different levels of the judicial system. The European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights issued a report in August 2018 that counted 51 prisoners under threat of execution, of whom 31 indeed received final sentences, and who could now be executed at any time. These include eight children and protestors, and twelve prisoners accused of espionage for Iran. Since the report was published, the Public Prosecutor has called for the execution of human rights defender Esraa Al-Ghamgam and four other activists, as well as two others held in the Damman state prison, and Sheikh Al-Ouda, raising the total number to 60 prisoners held under threat of execution. The European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights believes that it is probable that there are a number of others about whom there is no information available,but who remain under similar threat.
The number of persons sentenced to execution in Saudi Arabia has continued to rise under King Salman, which indicates that the current government has a ruthless appetite for beheading as a punishment. The year 2018 has witnessed an escalation of state violence on several fronts: the number of executions carried out in the first two months of 2018 indicates a 167 percent increase in the average rate of beheadings compared to the monthly average over the past fourteen years. Furthermore, the first sixth months of 2018 have seen a 27 percent increase in executions compared to the first six months of 2017.
In January 2018, the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights published an analysis of the execution of the young political protestor Mohamed Shuyoukhand came to the conclusion that Saudi Arabia is carrying out a wave of repression that undermines justice. The Organization also stated that Sheikh Salman Al-Ouda is a prisoner of conscience, and that expressing political opinions and disagreeing with the official positions of the state is not a crime. The report concluded that the trial that Al-Ouda was subjected to was nothing but a “show trial”and lacked any guarantee of basic rights.
The Public Prosecutor of Saudi Arabia, who reports directly to King Salman, reaffirmed the demand for Sheikh Al-Ouda’s execution, and that the death penalty can be used even in cases of non-violent crimes. He stated that such punitive executions will be easily carried out by the Saudi Government to the greatest extent possible, and that the government is prepared to apply the death penalty even to nonviolent prisoners.