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The Saudi judiciary has once again imposed the death sentence on Jordanian detainee Hussein Abu al-Khair, who is accused of drug smuggling, via a decision handed down by the Criminal Court in Tabuk on November 26, 2017. He was retried after the Supreme Court, on March 9, 2017, had overturned the first death sentence issued on January 27, 2015.
The Saudi court refused to accept Abu al-Khair’s complaint that he was coerced and tortured into confessing the charges against him. The judges regardedhis claimsto be false because he admitted to the charges against him in court, and he was considered legally competent. Abu al-Khair had said that he was compelled to accept the charges against him because the Directorate General of Narcotics Control threatened to torture him again if he did not certify the statements attributed to him.
The European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) has been following the case of Abu al-Khair (born 1965), who was arrested on May 18, 2014. The organization’s documentation indicates that Abu al-Khair was forcibly disappeared immediately after his arrest. In examining hisjudicial process, the ESOHR has found that he was deprived of the vast majority of the conditions of a fair trial. He was forced under torture to make self-incriminating statements and was deprived of a lawyer in bothhis trials.This occurred throughout his entire process, during the 45-month period beginning withhis arrest, through the pronuncement of his most recent sentence, and continues as of this report’s publication.
United Nations special rapporteurs have also followed Abu al-Khair’s case. On September 30, 2015, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment sent a letter to Saudi Arabia regarding violations against Abu al-Khair. The letter made clear that, based on the merits of Abu al-Khair’s case, carrying out the death sentence against him would constitute an extrajudicial killing. Moreover, the charges against him are not considered amongthe most serious of crimes.
On May 4, 2016, Saudi Arabia replied to the letter, enumerating the laws that it claims guarantee the rights of all detainees. It declared that the fears of the rapporteurs were unjustified because Abu al-Khair obtained his right to a fair trial, and Saudi Arabia only imposes the death penalty for the most serious crimes.
In its assessment of Saudi Arabia’s response to the Abu al-Khair case and its monitoring of Saudi Arabia’s responses to other cases, the ESOHR notes that Saudi Arabia often provides incorrect and inaccurate answers and makes only hypothetical claimsby parading out some articles of its domesticstatutes without applying most of them inactual practice with the accused.
The ESOHR believes that the Saudi judiciary’s insistence on the death penalty – while ignoring the assertions of the accused of confessions extracted under torture and threats to certify confessions – is a flagrant violation of domestic laws. Article 102 of Saudi Arabia’s Law of Criminal Procedure underscores: “Interrogation shall be conducted in a manner that does not affect the will of the accused in making his statements. The accused shall not be asked to take an oath nor shall he be subjected to any coercive measures.” In addition, Saudi Arabia is in violation of international laws, in particular the Convention on Torture, ratified by Saudi Arabia in 1997, which states in Article 15: “Each state party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings.”
The ESOHRdoes not believe that the Saudi government takes international resolutions and opinions concerning this issue seriously. The organization also believes that the Saudi government must review death sentences based on drug crimes, which are not considered among the most serious crimes in international law. At the same time, Saudi Arabia claims that it only imposes the death sentence for the most serious crimes.
The ESOHR’s statistics confirm that executionshave not solved the drug problem over the past years: executions on drug charges made up about 30% of the total executions carried out in Saudi Arabia over the last 13 years, yet the drug problem persists and is worsening.