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Enforced Disappearance in Saudi Arabia: A Prelude to Murder or Tortureand Arbitrary Sentecing

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia practices enforced disappearance, which the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance defines as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.” In Saudi Arabia, this practice is not occasional or isolated but rather systematic and employed for a number of purposes.

Every year, the world commemorates International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on 30 August. According to the United Nations General Assembly, enforced disappearance is employed as a “strategy to spread terror within society” and many families are still waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones, amid anticipation and fear.


The United Nations:

 The Human Rights Council’s Working Groupon Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances monitors such violations in Saudi Arabia and has sent letters about seven cases to Saudi Arabia inquiring about the fate of forcibly disappeared individuals, in addition to questions about the use of the counterterrorism law to justify enforced disappearances.

Among the complaintssubmitted to Saudi Arabia was a letter about thecases of 17 citizens who face the death penalty despite suffering numerous violations, including enforced disappearance.Additionally, one letter drew attention to the caseof arrested and forcibly disappeared male and female human rights defenders Emanal-Nafjan, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Mohammed al-Bajad while another addressed the Saudi government with a complaint about human rights defender Khalid Al-Omair. The working group also contributed to complaints sent to Saudi Arabia about Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, another complaint about five individuals detained in his murder case, and acomplaint about the enforced disappearance of Yemeni journalist Marwan Ali Naji Al Muraisy. Furthermore, Saudi practices appeared in the working group’s annual report, which made clear that the government has neglected to respond to these complaints and questions.

One of the cases the working group has dealt with is that of cleric Suleiman al-Daweesh, whose fate is still unknown even though it has been three years since he disappeared. The working group sent the Saudi government a letter about al-Daweesh’s case in July 2017, but Saudi Arabia has suspiciously refused to respond while reports claiming that he was killed under torture have circulated on social media in the absence of an official denial or confirmation. As part of the working group’s urgent action, it also sent the Saudi government a letter about the case of Aida al Ghamdi, an elderly woman, and her son, who were forcibly disappeared in March 2018.

In May 2018, a High Commissioner for Human Rights statement confirmed that Saudi Arabia forcibly arrests and disappears people without explanation or due process,highlightingthe case of Saudi national Nawaf al-Rasheed, who forcibly disappeared in Saudi Arabia following his deportation fromKuwait..


Execution and Murder:

In some cases, Saudi Arabia’s use of enforced disappearance serves as a prelude to execution. The European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) has observedmany defendants be sentenced to death and executed despite having suffered numerous violations. Moreover, the ESOHR has confirmed that executions have included people who were forcibly disappeared upon arrest and later had their confessions, which were extracted under torture or mistreatment, used at trial and sentencing.

One of these cases is that of Jordanian national Hussein Abu al-Khairwho still faces the death penalty on drug charges. He was forcibly disappeared for 12 days without his family or lawyer being notified after the Saudi Arabian Border Guards detained him while he was attempting to enter Saudi Arabia.

One of the people that has been put to death was Saudi national Amjad al-Moaibed, who along with others was executed in July 2017 even though his trial was marred by violations, including a week-long enforced disappearance following his arrest by men wearing civilian clothes. In addition to al-Moaibed, the Saudi government executed Abdullah Al Tarif and 36 others in April 2019. A young man who was forcibly disappeared for 12 days after his arrest, Al Tarif suffered numerous violations and his death sentence was premised upon confessions extracted under torture.

On top of those brought to trial, Saudi Arabia has forcibly disappeared nationals and subjected them to harsh forms of torture in detention centers. In some cases, this has led to death: Makki al-Orayedh disappeared for two days after his arrest. When his family asked about his location, the Al-Awamiyah Police claimed that he died of fearfollowing his arrest even though there were very clear signs that his body had suffered extreme torture while he was forcibly disappeared.

The most prominent case that universally placed Saudi Arabia upon the list of states that practice enforced disappearance was that of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October 2018, whose fate remained unknown for 17 days until the Saudi government admitted that government employees killed him inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi’s disappearance developed into the enforced disappearance of his body, the fate of which Saudi Arabia is still refusing to reveal until this day.


Systematic Practices:

 In September 2017, Syrian national Khaled Mohammad Abdulaziz disappeared while performing the hajj pilgrimage and remained in an unknown location until February 2019 when his family learned that he was being detained in a Saudi prison. His family was unable to communicate with him until April 2019, when his brother was allowed a one-time visit; Khaled Mohammad Abdulaziz was then deported in August 2019.

In August 2015, Saudi Arabia announced that dissident Ahmed al-Mughassilhad been handed over following his arrest in the Beirut Airport. Even though he has been detained for four years, neither al-Mughassil’s fate nor location are known despite his family’s request for such information.

The Saudi government arrestedAhmed al-Mughassil’s brother Fadel al-Mughassilat his Tarout Island office in January 2018. A poet,Fadelwas forcibly disappeared for five monthsduring which time his family was unable to determinehis detention locationor hisfate. Without providing additional details, he was laterable to assure his wife during a short phone call that he was still alive and being detained.

In April 2019, the Saudi government staged a broad campaign of arrests and detained at least 15 citizens, including writers, activists, and civilians. It has been confirmed that many of these individualshad been forcibly disappeared and that their families did not learn their location for days, raisingsuspicion that they had been tortured or mistreated.

Despite limited information due to Saudi Arabia’s harsh repression and extreme intimidation of civil society, especially on social media, the ESOHR and other groups possess documentation showing that enforced disappearance is a systematic practice in Saudi Arabia;to a large extent, it isconducted on an ongoing basis against political prisoners at different intervals and in various ways. There areforcibly disappeared people whose fate remains unconfirmed – including Sheikh Suleiman al-Daweesh, Marwan Ali Naji Al Muraisy, Ahmed al-Mughassil, and Abdulrahman al-Sadhan – as well as forcibly disappeared bodies. Thecorpses of 83 victims of repression have disappeared between 2016 and now in August 2019; families do not know the location of their relatives’ bodies, which the government still refuses to return to their families despite their constant requests.

The ESOHR affirms that the Saudi government must reveal the fate of all forcibly disappeared people; moreover,officials directly and indirectly responsible for the disappearances and subsequent violations and torture that may amount to murder must be held accountable. The ESOHRalso stresses that the Saudi government’s failure to uphold its responsibilities toward the forcibly disappeared directly implicates it in crimes against humanity in light of Article Five of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which stipulates that enforced disappearance constitutes “a crime against humanity as defined in applicable international law and shall attract the consequences provided for under such applicable international law.”

On International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the ESOHRaffirms that Saudi Arabia practices enforced disappearance as a way to intimidate individuals and society, extrajudicially kill opinion leaders, and issue arbitrary death sentences.


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