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“Not Acts of islamic”, an extreme approach used by the Saudi judges to justify the execution and supression of oppenents

لقراءته بالعربية اضغط هنا

A review conducted by the European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) of a number of “sentencing instruments,” issued by the notorious Specialized Criminal Court, concerning 27 political prisoners, some of whom were executed,[1] as well as a number of other “indictments” issued by the public prosecutor against seven political prisoners,[2] reveals that Saudi Arabia selects religious texts and statements from extremist clerics to justify unjust sentences against dissenters, human rights advocates, protestors, and demonstrators. These texts and statements play a critical role in the context of harsher punishments issued against victims, in addition to the overbroad articles of the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and Its Financing and the Anti-Cybercrimes Law.

During his participation in the Future Investment Initiative forum held in Riyadh in October 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia was in the process of returning to a moderate Islam open to the world and to all religions. On the same occasion, he stated that his country will not spend another thirty years dealing with extremist ideas, adding with great enthusiasm, “We will destroy them today and immediately.”

However, in contrast with these pronouncements, which received welcome and applause from the forum audience and praise from many international newspapers, ESOHR observes in the many “sentencing instruments” issued by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, that Saudi judges– who are graduates of Saudi universities, which adopt an extremist approach –use religious texts from the Quran and hadiths to justify their unjust and violent rulings (including the death penalty by beheading). Saudi judges apply their rulings according to an extremist level of understanding, rather than to the moderate or tolerant levels practiced by other Islamic schools, or they are guided by texts that have no relationship to the charges the victim is facing to justify their harsh judgments and dress them up in religious clothing.


According ESOHR’s review, these texts and statements can be broken down into three objectives:

  1. To justify the rejection of victims’ claims of torture presented in court
  2. To justify unfair and violent sentences, including the death penalty
  3. To criminalize legitimate rights


Objective One: Justifying the rejection of victims’ claims of torture

Saudi judges use sayings of Ibn Abidin (1198-1252 AH) – “Recantationis valid with respect to hudud punishments, not discretionary punishments (ta’zir)” – and al-Zarkashi (772 AH) – “Anyone who acknowledges a thing and then recants it, is not accepted except in thehududpunishments of Almighty God” – and other similar texts to legitimize their refusal to allow defendants to recant statements before the court. Meanwhile, interrogators use cruel torture and many other forms of coercion against prisoners in Mabahith (secret police) prisons to force them to sign statements written by the interrogators themselves, or theytamper with the statements of prisoners in an incriminatory fashion. These statements are presented to the certification judge before they are submitted to the court and before the defendant is permitted to hire a lawyer. This torture does not exclude children. For example, Mujtaba Nader al-Suykat, a minor, told the certification judge, after the judge read back Mujtaba’s supposed statement, that it was incorrect; yet, the judge, instead of helping the child and opening an investigation, said, “You have a choice between certifying [your statement] or being returned to the Mabahith, and they will continue investigating you.” This forced Mujtaba to sign the statement for fear that he would be returned to his torturer and in the hope that he would escape from his previous sufferings under interrogation.

Judges do not allow statements by defendants before the court regarding their conditions and experiences in prison, nor dothey not comment on the responses and arguments of defense attorneys drawn from other religious texts that stipulate the inadmissibility of statements made under duress. Likewise, judges do not do their duty to open transparent investigations into whether claims of torture are true or not, on the grounds that the statements of the accused once certified by the judge are binding. This is a blatant violation of the Convention Against Torture, to which Saudi Arabia is a party. ESOHR considers this to be flagrant collusion between the Mabahith and the certification judge, who, together, are seen as the first step in the legal corruption of the court.


Objective Two: Justifying unfair and violent sentences

The right to life is a fundamental right for every individual, yet Saudi Arabia robs this from whomever opposes or differs with the government. It justifies its execution of dissenters by drawing on a group of extremist religious texts, in open disregard of other religious texts that do not conform to their authoritarian way of dealing with differing opinions. Saudi Arabia also draws on the statements of extremist clerics, several of which we note here:

“He who comes to you when you are united and wants to disunite your community, kill him.”

This hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is used by the Saudi judiciary to justify killing opponents, demonstrators, and dissenters. It is from a groups of hadiths that have been used to justify the killing of several people, like social justice activist Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, demonstrator Yusuf al-Mushykhass, and the minor child, Abdel Karim al-Hawaj. This hadith is also among the texts and statements that the prosecutor general used in his indictment of Sheikh Salman al-Ouda to justify his request that al-Ouda be put to death.


According to the extreme approach adopted in Saudi Arabia, opposition to the government is considered an attack on the ruler, and the punishment for this is death. Judges also used the words of Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawzi (691-751 AH) to justify the killing of Sheikh al-Nimr under the pretext that his crimes could only be paid forthus: “Punishment by death is permissible if the crime can only be paid for in this way, such as one who divides a group of Muslimsor who calls for something other than the Quran and the Sunnah of Muhammad, peace be upon him.” After the public prosecutor also asked for the death sentence to be handed down against Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, official Saudi media explained that al-Ouda’s crimes could only be paid for through his killing.

This synchronization of the statements of the judiciary, the public prosecutor, and the official media in Saudi Arabia makes clear that there is aoverarching policy on how to justify the killing and suppression of dissenters.

“Had all the people of Sana’a joined forces against him, I would have killed them all.”

The judges draw on this saying to justify the issuing of collective death sentencesif the defendants are many and there is one victim. This saying is attributed to the companion of the prophet, Umar ibn al-Khattab, in an incident in which five or seven men assassinated one man.

The minor child, Abdel Karim al-Hawaj, was not convicted of killing anyone, yet, the judges used this saying to justify the death sentence against him. This further shows that, in addition to their extremism, the texts and sayings are sometimes used differently than their source and are applied to those sentenced to death even if they do not apply to their cases.

“These are punishable by discretionary punishment (ta’zir), exemplary punishment (tankil), and chastisement as the ruler sees fit, and on account of a person’s many sins or few…”

The words of Ibn Taymiyyah (661-728 AH) are used in many of the Saudi judiciary’s rulings for those who commit offenses for which this is no prescribed hudud punishment or expiation. This gives the judge overly broad power and wideleeway to apply the punishment he sees fit.

This saying was used against children sentenced to death, like Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, and Abdel Karim al-Hawaj. It was also used, among other statements and texts, to justify the death sentence against the minor child, Ali al-Rebh, and the demonstrator, Mohammed al-Shioukh, who were executed on January 2, 2016.

{O ye who believe! Obey Allah and obey the messenger and those of you who are in authority.}

The Saudi judiciary relies heavily on this Quranic verse to justify harsher punishment against dissenters and protestors, and it considers their opposition, criticism, or demands for political reform as a clear violation of the verse. The judiciary says that the first among you are the rulers, and thus, it considers those who do not obey the orders of the Saudi rulers as rebellion against the “rulers.” ESOHR has reviewed several books of Quranic commentary to identify theviews of religious scholars on this verse and its associated hadiths, and the organization found that there are many interpretations of this verse based on different hadiths of the Prophet. However, Saudi Arabia relies on only one of the many different interpretations and applies it at an extremist level of understanding compared to other more moderate understandings.

The judiciary has used this verse in its extremeform to justify death sentences against Nimr al-Nimr, Mohammed al-Shioukh, Yusuf al-Mushykhass, and the minor children, Ali al-Rebh, Abdullah al-Zaher, and Dawood al-Marhoon. It was also used to hand down prison sentences to human rights defenders, including Doctor Mohammed al-Qahtani, Sheikh Mohammed al-Habib, Esau al-Nakhifi, and Essam Kushak.

The public prosecutor also used the verse itself to justify asking for the death sentence against Sheikh al-Ouda, human rights defender, Esraa al-Ghamgham, and fellow activists, Ali Awishir, Musa al-Hashim, and Khalid al-Ghanim.

“Whoever obeys me has obeyed Allah, and whoever disobeyed me has disobeyed Allah, and whoever obeys the prince has obeyed me.”

According to the hardline ideology adopted by Saudi Arabia, obedience to the ruler is marketed as a doctrinal matter, not as a political option. The hadith above is used by the Saudi judiciary to convict those with dissenting opinions, those demanding reform, and demonstrators and to brand them as disobedient to the prince (the ruler) and, thus, disobedient to the prophet and to God in accordance with their beliefs. It should be noted that the judiciary uses hadiths attributed to the prophet in a selective fashion, applies them according to an extremist understanding, connects them with Quranic verses, and interprets them rigidly and one-sidedly to serve tyranny and remove religious legitimacy from dissenters and those demanding reform, while legitimizing the process of suppressing or executing them.

For example, the hadith (“Whoever obeys me has obeyed Allah, and whoever disobeyed me…”) is always linked with the Quranic verse, {Whoever opposes the messenger after guidance has become clear to him, and follows other than the way of the believers, we will let him go to the way he has turned to, and we will cast him into hell – an evil destination.} Likewise, it is sometimes connected to sayings that they may be killed, such as the words of Ibn al-Qayyim: Punishment by death is permissible if the crime can only be paid for in this way, such as one who divides a group of Muslims or who calls for something other than the Quran and the Sunnah of Mohammed, peace be upon him.”


Objective Three: Criminalizing legitimate rights

There are currently people who have called for protests and demanded reform confined in Saudi prisons, after the judiciary convicted them using the above-mentioned or similar texts, as well as the words of official clergy, such as the Grand Mufti or clerics affiliated with the Council of Senior Scholars, to criticize the demonstrations and protests. Among them are the words of the former Grand Mufti, Abdulaziz bin Baz, responding to a question about the demonstrations, “I do not see demonstrations of men and women as the cure, rather I see that they are among the causes of sedition, evil, and oppression and violation of some people, with no right. But legitimate causes, correspondence, advice, and an invitation to goodness through sound means, the path taken by the scholars and the companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, while following them in benevolence, by correspondence, oral communication, and consultation with the prince and the sultan without defamation from the pulpits and elsewhere, sayinghe did so-and-so and became so-and-so. God is our refuge.” Among the prisoners that the judiciary condemned using these words is the demonstrator, Majid al-Nasif.

The words of Council of Senior Scholars member, Sheikh Salah al-Fawzan, are along similar lines: “The demonstrations are not the work of Muslims. Muslims know that the religion of Islam is a religion of tranquility and compassion, not chaos, confusion, and sedition. This is the religion of Islam. Rights are attained not in this way, but through legitimate request and legitimate means. These demonstrations bring about much rebellion, bloodshed, and destruction of property. These things are not permissible.” Among the prisoners that the judiciary convicted using this statement was Yusuf al-Mushaikhass, who was executed in 2017 on charges including demonstrating.

The statement of another former member of the Council of Senior Scholars, Sheikh Mohammed bin Salah al-Uthaymin regarding the lack of legitimacy of the demonstrations, went as follows: “The demonstrations are occurrences unknown during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), the rightly-guided caliphs, and the companions. It is the chaos and riot that make this a forbidden thing. It involves breaking glass and doors and the mixing of men and women, young and old, and that type of scandal and vice. As regards the issue of pressure on the government, it is Muslim, and it is enough that it preaches God’s book and the Sunnah of its Prophet (peace be upon him). This is the best thing offered to a Muslim. If the government is infidel, it will not care about those demonstrators, and it is in its heart evil. Thus, we consider these demonstrations reprehensible. As for saying that they are peaceful, they may be so at first but then become subversive. I advise the youth to follow the way of the piouspredecessors, for Almighty God praised the Muhajirun and the Ansar and those who followed them with charity.”

The three previous statements of bin Baz, al-Fawzan, and al-Uthaymin, were used by the judiciary to convict prominent human rights defender and founding member of the Hasim association, Abdulaziz al-Shabaily.

ESOHR believes that the statements made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman regarding his resolve to fight and destroy extremism are nothing more than propaganda under his rule, which has seen unprecedented repression of activists and dissenters. Likewise, the organization believes that the judicial rulings issued by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh under his rule are clearly marked by hardline extremism. This proves that he adheres to a policy of using the statements of official extremist clerics, adopting the extremist concepts of religious texts, and ignoring differing Islamic understandings or imprisoning their originators and demanding their execution. This is what is now happening to the Islamic researcher, Sheikh Hassan Farhan al-Maliki.

The failure to immediately drop all rulings based on extremist views, shows the lack of credibility in the Crown Prince’s statement on the fight against extremist ideology.

[1]The sentencing instruments reviewed by ESOHR concern the cases of Ahmed al-Rabi’, Ahmed Darwish, Hussein al-Rabi’, Hussein al-Muslim, Dawood al-Marhoon, Salam al-Qureish, Abdelaziz al-Shabaily, Abdel Karim al-Hawaj, Abdullah al-Zaher, Abdullah al-Asrih, Abdullah al-Tarif, Essam Kushak, Ali al-Rebh, Ali al-Nimr, Esau al-Nakhifi, Fadhil al-Labad, Majid al-Nasif, Mujtaba al-Suykat, Mohammed al-Nasser, Sheikh Mohammed al-Habib, Mohammed al-Shakhuri, Mohammed al-Shioukh, Doctor Mohammad al-Qahtani, Mostafa Darwish, Munir al-Adam, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and Yusuf al-Mushykhass.

[2]The indictments reviewed by the ESOHR concern the cases of Ahmed al-Matroud, Esraa al-Ghamgham, Khalid al-Ghanim, Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, Ali Awisher, Mujtaba al-Mazin, and Musa al-Hashim.

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