Home » Reports » Special rapporteurs call for Saudi Arabia to lift the death penalty against four influential figures: If carried out, the judgments will constitute criminal arbitrary executions for which the state bears responsibility

Special rapporteurs call for Saudi Arabia to lift the death penalty against four influential figures: If carried out, the judgments will constitute criminal arbitrary executions for which the state bears responsibility

لقرائته باللغة العربية إضغط هنا

United Nations special rapporteurs have expressed concerns that the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is issuing death sentences against individuals accused of exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of opinion, belief, and religion.

On 29 November 2019, several UN special rapporteurs sent a letter to the Saudi government concerning the cases of Dr. Ali al-Omari, Sheikh Awad al-Qarni, researcher Hassan al-Maliki, and Sheikh Salman al-Oudah, after receiving disturbing information that they had been subjected to a series of abuses and the Public Prosecution was seeking their execution.

The letter to the Saudi government was signed by six parties: Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Ms. Agnès Callamard; Vice-Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Ms. Leigh Toomey; Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Mr. David Kaye; Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed; Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms While Countering Terrorism, Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin; and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Mr. Nils Melzer.

The letter referenced details concerning four figures:

Dr. Ali al-Omari

Al-Omari is the president of Makkah Almukaramah Open University and the founder of a satellite television channel that deals with religious, historical, social, and political issues. Dr. al-Omari is also a member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, which Saudi Arabia added to the terrorism list in November 2017.

On 9 September 2017, al-Omari was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for 15 months. About five months after his arrest, he was allowed to speak with his family by phone, after which he had no further contact with them for seven months. In addition, he was not given his right to legal representation during this period.

During his time in solitary confinement, al-Omari reportedly was tortured, including severe beatings, electric shocks, and burning with cigarette butts. He was forced to sign confessions and was referred for trial on 4 September 2018, based on more than 30 charges, including joining a “terrorist entity” and founding a satellite television channel in Arab countries for the purpose of spreading Muslim Brotherhood ideology.

A secret trial in the Specialized Criminal Court started on 5 September 2018. On 2 April 2019, Dr. al-Omari submitted evidence to the court of the alleged torture and inhumane treatment he suffered in detention, as shown by the wounds and burns on his skin. Nevertheless, the judge requested no investigation whatsoever, and statements obtained under torture were used against him and formed the basis of the Public Prosecution’s request for the death penalty.

Sheikh Awad al-Qarni

Al-Qarni is a professor at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University and King Khalid University. He has more than 2.1 million followers on Twitter and was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government in 2012. On 12 September 2017, the Mabahith arrested him.

A year after his arrest, he was charged with joining and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, inciting strife and offending leaders of other countries, expressing support for detainees deprived of their freedom and calling for their release, and preparing, sending, and storing information damaging to public order. The trial began in the Specialized Criminal Court, and the Public Prosecution sought the death penalty.

Researcher Hassan Farhan al-Maliki

Al-Maliki is an Islamic researcher and thinker known for his tolerant and moderate religious opinions, as well as for his rejection of extremism and sectarianism. On 17 October 2014, he was arrested and confined in Al-Malaz Prison in Riyadh, after which he was released and forbidden from traveling abroad. On 21 July 2017, he was sentenced to three months in prison and a fine, and his Twitter account was shut down.

In October 2018, more than a year after his arrest, al-Maliki was hit with 14 charges, including questioning the authenticity of some of al-Bukhari’s hadiths, criticizing the behavior of some of the Prophet’s companions, giving numerous television interviews to hostile foreign media channels, describing the official Council of Senior Scholars as “extremist,” and writing and publishing abroad many books and research papers. On 1 October 2018, his trial began in the Specialized Criminal Court, and the Public Prosecution sought the death penalty against him.

Sheikh Salman al-Oudah

Al-Oudah is a well-known religious figure who has more than 14 million Twitter followers and is known for calling for reforms and greater respect for human rights within the context of Islamic Shariah. On 8 September 2017, he publicly called for mediation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia amidst the Gulf’s diplomatic crisis. On 9 September 2017, plainclothes Mabahith officers arrested him at his home, and he was forcibly disappeared for a time. The officers also searched his home without a warrant and confiscated electronic devices and books.

During the first months of his detention, al-Oudah was kept in solitary confinement with limited possibilities to contract his family and his lawyer. Special procedures mandate-holders issued a report on this case on 22 December 2017, to which the Saudi government responded that al-Oudah’s arrest was based on national security. During his confinement, he suffered severe ill-treatment: he was deprived of sleep for several consecutive days, his feet were chained for the first three months, and he was often blindfolded and interrogated for over 24 hours.

Al-Oudah suffered from high blood pressure and was denied treatment until January 2018, requiring his hospitalization due to the severe deterioration of his health. He was not permitted to contact his family until February 2018, whereupon they were able to visit him for the first time at Dhahban Prison in Jeddah.

On 4 September 2018, a year after his arrest, his trial began in the Specialized Criminal Court. Among the 37 charges against him were belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, inciting civil strife, provoking society, stirring up disorder, contacting illegal organizations, and holding meetings and conferences.

Analysis of special rapporteurs

The special rapporteurs have expressed their concern regarding all allegations of violations of articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Arab Charter on Human Rights, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. They have demanded Saudi Arabia guarantee the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and belief and have also stressed that the right to expression includes the right to freedom to seek, receive, and transfer information and ideas of all kinds.

The letter brought the government’s attention to the report of the former special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms While Countering Terrorism following his visit to Saudi Arabia, in which he expressed “his grave concern about the lack of due process in terrorism cases generally….particularly in cases involving the imposition of the death penalty.” The former special rapporteur also urged the government to urgently review the death penalty and all current cases involving prisoners charged and sentenced under the terrorism law in order to ensure that international minimum standards are met in each case.

The special rapporteurs emphasized that the death penalty, if not prohibited, must only be carried out after meeting a strict set of substantive procedural requirements. In particular, the death penalty may only be carried out for the most serious crimes involving intentional killing. The letter expressed concern that the individuals mentioned had been charged and sentenced to death on the basis of crimes that do not meet this standard but are instead a punishment for religious behaviour and belief.

Furthermore, the rapporteurs stressed that the imposition of the death penalty, and its subsequent implementation post-trial, did not include the required legal procedures and did not respect fair-trial standards. This constitutes arbitrary execution, and the state bears responsibility.

In light of the above, the rapporteurs urged the government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the individuals mentioned are not sentenced to death and are tried in accordance with international standards. Moreover, they called on Saudi Arabia to formally ban the death penalty and consider abolishing it in full. The letter asked Saudi Arabia to provide additional information about all allegations, stop all violations, prevent their recurrence, and ensure all those responsible are held accountable.

ESOHR believes that the series of letters from special rapporteurs to the Saudi government – especially those concerning the death penalty – indicate the gravity of this unjust trend, which extends widely to individuals exercising fundamental rights afforded under international law. ESOHR notes that the Saudi government’s delay in responding within the specified deadlines, and its habit of responding with unrealistic claims, shows the nature of its dealings with international mechanisms and its contempt for its obligations; the death penalty may be issued and carried out despite all criticisms. ESOHR emphasizes that the Human Rights Council must use more stringent mechanisms to deal with these violations.

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