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The feasibility of the trial of 32 detainees accused by Saudi Arabia of spying for Iran, was dramatically decreased after the media campaign carried out by the Saudi press with the beginning of the first session of their trail on 21st February 2016, in which the public prosecutor called for the execution of 25 of them. They are:
Salem Abdullah al-Amari – Sheikh Mohammad Abdul-Ghani Attia – Mohammad Hussein al-Ashour – Sheikh Badr al-Hilal Al-Talib – Hussein Ali al-Hamidi – Hussein Qasim al-Aaboud – Taher Muslim al-Harbi – Ali Hussein al-Ashour – Ali Hussein al-Mahanaa – Professor Dr. Ali Abdullah al-Haji – Sheikh Abdul Jalil Ali al-Aithan – Ahmad Ali An-Naser – Abdullah Ibrahim al-Khamis – Dr. Abbas Abdullah al-Abad – Ibrahim Ali al-Hamidi – Talib Muslim al-Harbi – Yassin Saleh al-Harbi – Yousof Abdullah al-Harbi – Samir Halil al-Harbi – Abdul-Ghafour Dous Mohammad Hazara (Afghan) – Abbas Hajji al-Hassan – Ahmad Abdulaziz an-Nakhli – Alawi Moussa al-Hussein – Ahmad Gharama al-Ghamadi – Ali Daifallah al-Awaji.
Whereas, the public prosecutor demanded (severe penalties) for the other seven detainees who are: Mohammad Zaman Zamani (Iranian) – Naser Abdullah al-Laweem – Hussein Saeed Al-Ibrahim – Khodor Ali al-Marhoun – Souheil Abdulaziz al-Mouled – Sheikh Ali Ahmad al-Kabesh – Mohammad Hussein al-Alasi.
The reports which provided prejudgments for spying, followed by articles of a book which presented the defendants as guilty before being convicted, grabbed the headlines, without consideration of the legal merits which determine the presumption of innocence of the accused. The concern over this media coverage rises from the fact that these newspapers are not independent and are controlled by the security authorities in the Interior Ministry, which means that these views are closely related to the official view of the State:
1. Passing sensitive military information, seeking to sabotage, and inciting strife. The start of the trial of 32 accused of spying for the Iranian Intelligence – http://www.al-madina.com/node/661456
2. Exiting details in the first sessions of the trial of the 32 cell. The involvement of the Iranian Supreme Leader in spying against the Kingdom – http://www.okaz.com.sa/new/Issues/20160222/Con20160222825638.htm
3. Belonging to a cell of 32 accused. Some of them have met Khamenei. The trial of eight citizens accused of spying for Iran, involved in passing sensitive military information – http://www.alriyadh.com/1130820
4. (High treason), accusing 30 Saudis of high treason for revealing secrets http://www.alhayat.com/Articles/14097471
5. Death penalties for the espionage cell. Committing high treason against their country, king and security http://www.alwatan.com.sa/Local/News_Detail.aspx?ArticleID=253894&CategoryID=5
6. Trial of the 32 cell. A university professor and an employee in the field of education are involved in spying for Iran http://www.okaz.com.sa/new/Issues/20160223/Con20160223825785.htm
7. Those accused of spying for Iran have met Khamenei and passed sensitive military information
8. “Prosecution” demands the execution of 28 spies, the list of traitors includes a well known economic analyst, doctor and a technical trainer. Iran used an owner of Hajj campaign and a solider to disrupt the security of pilgrimage. http://www.okaz.com.sa/new/Issues/20160225/Con20160225826134.htm
This coverage comes after a first opening session held in the Specialized Criminal Court (SSC) in which the defendants were segmented into groups and the trial was scheduled to last 4 days in a clear anticipation of the trial results.
Legally, the issuance of judgments made by the Saudi press, is considered illegal, and accordingly, it is legitimate for the defendants to file lawsuits against the press, whereas, in Saudi Arabia there is no fair legal environment capable of being just with them because of the subordination of the media to the State which totally controls its content, and the lack of separation of powers in practice.
With respect to the first session, it was limited to appointing lawyers, while they should be able to access to lawyers at the first moments of arrest which was made for most of them since three years ago. In a breach of the principles of a fair trial, usually, in the first session of the Specialized Criminal Court, the charges should be recited by the public prosecutor, but this did not happen and the defendants were just handed over papers containing the charges. In this way, the first session was adjourned and took only few minutes for each defendant.
Although the public prosecutor says that those accused of spying constitute an organized cell, they were not presented as a group before the judge, instead, each person was brought in separately to the court in a manner which is unfamiliar in cases which are considered (cells) in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi government always says that the cases of execution are examined by 13 judges distributed throughout the sessions of the trial, in which three judges shall be present in the first session, but in this session there was only one judge.
In the first session, the judicial also violates the principle of the right of the fair examination of the cases. If we neglect the extent of the independency of the SCC that is used to try terrorism cases (system of anti-terrorism and its financing), giving the Interior Minister dominant powers over the judicial powers, we cannot let pass the necessity of giving the defendant adequate space, time and facilities to prepare defense, but this was violated in a way which raises doubts about the desire of the judiciary to provide adequate opportunity to prepare defense, through the following:
1. The judge gave the defendants nearly three weeks only to present their defense; at a time there was a period of 3 years prior to the trial in which the prosecution has spent enough time to prepare the charges.
2. There was no sufficient time for the lawyers who were appointed by the defendants, especially taking into consideration that most of the defendants have hired only three lawyers (Sadq al-Jbran – Taha al-Hajji – Mohammad al-Shakhes). Due to the nature of the steps needed to be taken by the lawyer, this available time seems to be unfeasible. For instance, the first session of the first group of the defendants was held on 21/02/2016, and then the 2nd session for some of them was determined to be held on 14/03/2016, which means that they had only 22 days. Thus, if the lawyer specifies one day for each detainee, that would not be enough. The judiciary did not respond to the demands of some of the defendants in the first session concerning giving more time for the defense. In spite of the lack of time, the second session began without allowing the lawyers to meet their defendants.
3. The judge has strangely asked the defendants whether they would like to present their defense in the same session, once they received the charges and before knowing their contents. However, none of them had accepted to present his defense in the same session.
4. The judiciary has clearly minimized the presence of the defendants’ relatives at the trial, where two relatives in addition to the lawyer were allowed to be present by the side of the defendant. On the other hand, there were many journalists whom their attendance is considered biased for the State. This presence does not comply with the total right of the public trial, since publicity means that the sessions shall be open to public and to the free media, in order to know and monitor how justice is being administered and protected.
The second session will be held from March 14, 2016, and will continue until April 6, 2016, where they will be brought before the court in 16 groups, by two persons per day.
The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) confirms that the noncompliance of the judiciary to the terms and principles of fair trial will lead to illegal judgments and will present concrete evidence on the injustice and the non-independency of the judiciary in Saudi Arabia.