Home » Reports » A persistent policy of executions using torture based confessions: 12 prisoners at risk of imminent execution by Saudi Arabia, on charges of espionage for Iran

A persistent policy of executions using torture based confessions: 12 prisoners at risk of imminent execution by Saudi Arabia, on charges of espionage for Iran

لقراءته بالعربية اضغط هنا

Twelve individuals have recently had their death sentences validated by the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia in December 2017. Salem Alomari – Mohammed Attiya – Abass Al-hassan – Mohammed Ashur – Taleb Alharbi – Hussein Alhamidi – Hussein Alabood – Taher Alharbi – Ali Alashur – Yousif Alharbi – Ali Almehna and Abdullah Alkhamis, are all charged with espionage for Iran, and their trial confirms that the judiciary totally disregards the gross violations inflicted on victims during the course of the trial. According to several of the victims, the Supreme Court has based its rulings on forced confessions extracted under torture and duress. This has been concluded by an analysis conducted by the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) on the court’s order, which constitutes blatant contempt for the international conventions to which Saudi Arabia has acceded.

Under the atmosphere of extreme secrecy and continued intimidation of family members in order toscare them into silence, sources have informed ESOHR that in July 2017 Alha’er Prison Management located in Riyadh took the fingerprints of number of people who were on death row, and photographed them in various profiles. Fourteen other people on death row were also with them including minors, in addition to some men who were likely to be on death row as well. The source has also indicated that the prison management asked some of them to sign several consent forms related to organ donation. ESOHR have not been able to understand the full extent of these procedures, due to the government shrouding these procedures in secrecy and concealing them from family members. Reports of these procedures are very alarming, as there is a strong likelihood they signal pre-execution procedures which occur prior to implementation of death sentence orders.

On December 6th, 2016, the notorious Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh had initially sentenced fifteen mento death during a mass trial. In total, thirty-two men were subjected to a mass trial, accused by the government of partaking in a spy cell for Iran. Saudi security forces arrested most of them in 2013. Immediately following their arrest and prior to any trial taking place, the local official press launched an intense defamatory campaign accusing them of being spies for Iran. That media campaign denied them of the right to be ‘innocent before proven guilty’. Following that campaign, they were mostly denied the right to self-defense or to appoint or access a lawyer in the pre-trial period. They were not sent to court untilt hree years later.

It has been observed that Saudi Arabia had referred the thirty-two accused persons to the Specialized criminal court at Riyadh where the Prosecutor demanded the execution of most of them. This came shortly after execution of social justice defender Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr and forty-six other individuals who were executed as part of a mass trial on the 2nd of January 2016, which heightened tensions thereafter between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is likely that political motivations have been the key factor that in the timing of the trial, after being delayed by Saudi Arabia for almost three years. Moreover, when inquiries were made regarding trial dates for those accused individuals, family members were told that the trial would not be initiated in the short term. Less than one year after the trial had been initiated, fifteen of the 32 victims were sentenced to death by the SCC following a dishonorable and unfair trial. During this trial, a number of defendants were prohibited from defending themselves against the charges brought against them to, due to the apparent bias expressed by the judge in favor of the prosecutor, as well as the judge overlooking and ignoring repeated requests raised by the defendants’ lawyers during the trial.

As part of ESOHR’s monitoring of human rights in Saudi Arabia, particularly with regards to trial proceedings and its conformity to the international law, ESHOR has analyzed the 336-page “verdict” issued against the those charged with espionage for Iran. Based on this analysis, ESOHR identified a number of blatant violations of international law exercised by Saudi Arabia against those accused persons under the pretext of espionage for Iran.


Violations can be split into two phases: pre-trial and post-trial as follows:

  1. Pretrial rights

 Arbitrary Arrest

Pre-trial procedures and the subsequent proceedings indicate the level to which the state is committed to human rights and to the international and local laws; however, Saudi Arabia has shown a great dealof disdain towards the international laws well as local Saudi laws as well. Saudi Arabia arbitrarily arrested the persons accused of espionage for Iran without a warrant. For example, Abass Al-hassan, one of those convicted with the capital punishment, was born in 1973 and lives in Jeddahcity, was arrested on Jeddah’s streets, and then was immediately brought to his house handcuffed, his house was fully searched during which his home belongings were fully tampered with. The arresting squad had no warrant or permission to search the house, and one member of the squad pointed out his gun at Abass’s family when they asked squad to show the warrant.


The right to access a pretrial attorney

In an evident violation of the international and local laws, detainees were not allowed to access attorneys throughout the investigation. In this regard, ESOHR has communicated with attorney Taha Alhaji who had the power of attorney for most of the accused; however, he was unable to continue his role because he had to flee Saudi Arabia following his targeting by Saudi Ministry of Interior. In 2006, Alhaji applied for political asylum in Germany because of being a legal activist defending his clients via the social media, criticizing justice in Saudi Arabia and criticizing the specialized criminal court’s bias in favor of the prosecutor. Alhaji confirmed that lawyers tried, from the very beginning of the investigation to be present at the investigations, yet their efforts were in vain. They were also unable to meet the accused after the long and tough solitary confinement period ended.


The right to communicate and the right to a trial within reasonable time frame

Most of the detainees have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Once detained, they were then denied the right to communicate with their families or the outside world. Lawyer Taha Alhaji confirmed to ESOHR that trials of the accused people were like a “game”. Charges were ready made at the time they were arrested. He indicated that most of the accused spent three years in detention before being sent to the tribunal, in which three months out of the three years they were placed in solitary imprisonments. Alhaji asserted that the case remained untouched with no progress for years, and was only sent to the tribunal only after the Saudi-Iraniantensions heightened,followed the murder of Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr. He made asserted that he personally checked with the investigation committee and the prosecutor and was told that the case might take months to be processed; however, in less than a month, he was surprised that the case was brought to court. This emphasizes the fact, according to Alhaji, that political motivations stand behind the case of his clients.


The right to not expose to torture or to enforced confessions

Through torture, a number of the accused individuals were forced to endorse confessions written by the investigators themselves. The accused were then forced to rewrite the confessions in their own handwriting before signing them. Moreover, in a number of cases, the investigators used pressure on the accused via the use of solitary imprisonment, or by disallowing them to communicate with their families as a way ofapplying more pressure to make them more responsive to the requests of the investigators regardingendorsingthe pre-prepared confessions.

Psychological torture was also used with the detainees. This was done with the view to force them to endorse confessions written by the investigators, or via manipulation of the accused persons’ statements by investigators in a way that would convict the accused persons. Other accused persons were tortured or arrested and were forced to remain all night long without sleep or deprived of food repeatedly throughout the investigationperiod. They were also forced to stand long hours with their hands raised upward.

In defense of her husband, and as presented and stated on the “verdict” document, Yousif Alharbi’s wife submitted a defense as said : “As for the confessions reflected by his statement, this was due to pressures exercised by the investigator to force him to sign the statements after being humiliated verbally and by face slapping; as a result of such pressure, he had a fit of mental state and attempted to commit suicide”. She demanded the judge to ask the Department of Investigation, to submit as evidence the investigation recording, as cameras are mounted in all investigation rooms, but her request was ignored.

In his defense presented to the judge, detainee Khudr Almarhoon (born in 1966) who had a sentence of eight years in jail, gave an account of the circumstances that led him to endorse his confessions; “The investigator threatened to keep me in the solitary imprisonment, jail my wife, have my children dismissed from work, and disallow family visitor phone calls, and I did as requested by the investigator. Then the judge who certified those confessions asked me one short question by saying “is it you handwriting? I said yes.” The meeting did not last more than one minute and I could not utter a word because I feared the investigators who were present would expose me to torture. The court could consult the investigation room cameras evidence to verify what I have said and all that happened as I believe it so”.

In addition, Abass Alhassan a merchant of Jeddah, who was also sentenced to death, was threatened that his wife and children would be brought to prison if he would not change his statement to look like an indictment. Moreover, he was exposed to the physical torture that led him to catch some diseases.

Hussein AlHamidi (born 1970) a senior accountant at a telecommunication company and one of the individuals sentenced to death, also confirmed that the investigations were conducted under extreme physical and psychological pressure.

Hussein Alabood (born in 1982), who received a death sentence also, told the judge that his endorsed statements were totally invalid; he was forced to do so. He indicated that before bringing him to the judge to endorse his statement, he was threatened with tortured if he tried to change his statement. On another hand, the investigator tried to compromise Alabood’s basic rights to force him to endorse his statements. Alabood words, which were included on the verdict document confirm this, as he said that the investigators told him: “If you are going to endorse your statement we’ll let you contact your family, and if you cry while making the phone call, you’ll be deprived of the next phone call“. Alabood’s conviction was based on supposedly conveying information to some Iranians about demonstrations ineastern (Alsharqia) area and about some of the detainees. He was also accused of giving information regarding the suffering of Shiite people because of the government restrictions. He was also convicted of meeting the Iranian Revolution Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei, and of participating in a number of demonstrations at Al-Ahssa and AlQatif.

ESOHR obtained a leaked letter from inside the prison revealing the brutal, savage, and degrading treatment exercised upon the detainees inside Saudi prisons. The letter was written by one of the accused individuals, where he mentioned the torture he was exposed to in the prison in addition to the bad treatment received by his fellow inmates. In his letter, the accused indicated that the prison had rooms called the “red rooms” which were equipped with torture tools. This demonstrates the systematicand institutional practice of torture, and not merely personal acts by a rare number of investigators. The letter listed types of the physical torture to which detainees were exposed such as sleep deprivation, being forced to standup or kneel for prolonged hours, handcuffing, and severe beating. Besides the physical torture, the letter talked about the psychological torture endured, such as verbal insults, threats to bring family to prison or disallowance of meeting the family members.


  1. Rights in the course of trial

 The right to the presumption of innocence

The accused people were deprived of their right to the presumption of innocence. Since the moment they were arrested, official media released reports which contained direct charges against the detainees,without awaiting the outcome of any investigations or peremptory judicial decisions. This gave a general impression that the charges were already ready-made, and the trial was only formalities, which was clearly demonstrated by the “verdict” showing that the statements and demands of the accused persons were entirely disregarded.


The right to not consider torture-extracted evidence

Judges in the Specialized Criminal Court did not pay attention to the circumstances that accompanied the defendants’ statements of confessions, despite their affirmation that the confessions were taken from them forcibly and under torture. In addition, the judges were indifferent to the prevention of the detainees from using lawyers during the pre-trial period of almost three years.

Sheik Mohammed Attiya (born in 1970) who was sentenced to death, denied verbally on front of the judge all the evidence and charges addressed against him. Mohammed Attiya confirmed that the investigator brought previously written papers, and ordered him to sign. Mohammed objected to that where he showed that the statement had omissions and additions; he was forced to endorse the confessions through intimidation. He demanded to have a face-to-face meeting with the investigator but the judge was irresponsive.

Furthermore, A number of defendants whom belonging to Saudi military refused to submit a response to defend themselves against charges of revealing military information to Iran. Lawyer Alhaji said that the accused people refused to be in line with the unfair justice system by having an ongoing role in the “play” because of the contempt shown by the judges toward the international and the local law throughtorture-based forced confessions, and through denying requests of the accused persons to summon the investigators, bring videos of the investigation sessions, or to appeal against their deprivation of hiring lawyers for almost three years.

Banker Ahmed Alnaser (born in 1960) who was also sentenced to death, denied before the judge the charges he was charged with, when he confirmed that during the investigation he was threatened with bringing his family to prison. Also, his elder son was detained for five days without cause. Moreover, he was threatened of the solitary imprisonment until he would endorse his confessions.


The right to access data, witnesses, and self-defense

Monitoring of the course of the trial of the detainees shows that they have been deprived the right to self-defense as guaranteed under international law. During the trial in the specialized criminal court, which started three years after their initial detention, the judge requested that defense briefs should be submitted during the second session of the court proceedings, which would be held in less than a month. The defense briefs were supposed to be for thirty defendants –but only three lawyers had the power of attorney to defend all of the defendants. The lawyers could not make pre-visits or hear their clients. In addition, the defendants were distributed into several cities: Damam, Riyadh, and Jeddahwhich made the lawyers’ mission almost impossible.

The lawyers of the accused persons refused to participate in the so-called “game” that sought to enhance legitimize the image of of th trial.

The prisoners handed over a letter to the court, stating demands and conditions set by the lawyers in order to enable them to do their job. The conditions stated that the lawyers should be given enough time in-between the proceeding sessions, enabling them to visit their clients, withholding the media campaign against the accused people where it convicted those accused persons and issued its judgment before the court did, because such campaign would have a negative impact over the court decisions.

The ESOHR confirms that any such charges would not justify committing violations against the detainees.



Saudi Arabia has presented this case in the media and the judiciary as a security issue that linked to spying for Iran. However, the ESOHR has found many unjustifiable accusations that are inconsistent with the essential charges, and do not listed under the category of crimes according to international law, which greatly weakens the case of espionage directed against the accused prisoners by the Saudi government.


  1. Dissemination of Shi’ism

The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh has convicted two clerics whom are in the same group, on charges related to the dissemination of shi’ism. Some of these charges directed to Sheikh Mohammed Attiyah (a Shiite cleric living in Jeddah) who has been sentenced to death are relating to disseminating of Shi’ism The prosecution has inferred such charges based on public religious activities that arranged and supervised by Sheikh Attiya. In a similar vein, the court has convicted Abass Alhassan who has been also sentenced to death – for providing financial support of one thousand US dollars on monthly basis for religious programs and activities in accordance with the Shiite principle that supervised by Sheikh Attiya.

Saudi Arabia has claimed that the “one thousand US dollar support” has come upon a direct request from Iran with aim of disseminating Shi’ism.


  1. Signing a statement

Hussein Alhamidi (born in 1970) who has been sentenced to death, Ibrahim Alhamidi (born in 1964) who has been sentenced to 25 years in jail, and Alawi Alhussein (born in 1958) who has been sentenced to 10 years in jail, have been convicted of signing “the condemnation statement of blood shedding” on February 14, 2012. The statement condemns the way the security service has dealt with the protesters in Qatif. Moreover, two of them were also convicted of participating in the preparation of the statement.


  1. Saving soft documents

Six persons (Hussein Alhamidi – Badr Al Taleb – Abdul-Jaleel Alethan – Alawi Alhussein – Khudr Almarhoon – Ahmed Felis Alnakhli) were convicted of saving soft documents on computers such as the statement condemning the Saudi Government policies, and images of demonstrators. Hussein Alhmidi (sentenced to death) was convicted of saving text documents of Sheikh Al-Nimr criticizing the Saudi Government, whereas Abdul-Jaleel Alethan (born in 1969) who has been sentenced to fifteen years in jail, was convicted of saving a statement denouncing Sheikh Al-Nimr’s arrest, a statement that described the arrest as abduction.

Sheikh Mohammed Attiya has also been convicted of saving images of the demonstrators and materials related to detainees participating in the demonstrations on an external hard drive. Alawi Alhussein has been convicted of sending emails accusing the government of exerting efforts to sow seeds of discord within and between Shiite leaders and Shiite youth.


  1. Public and social issues

The court also convicted eleven people (Sheikh Mohamed Attiya – Abass Alhasan – Hussein Alhamidi – Hussein Alabood – Ahmed Alnaser – Abass Alabbad – Sheik Badr Al Taleb – Abdul-Jaleel Alethan – Alawi Alhussein – Ibrahim Alhamidi – Khudr Almarhoon) of involvement in public conversations with officials working at the Embassy of Iran in Riyadh, and at the Iranian consulate in Jeddah. Public conversations have included the situation of Shiite in Saudi Arabia, or issues such as that of the demonstrations and the situation at Alkateef.

For example, the former banker Ahmed Alnaser (sentenced to death), has been convicted of discussing public affairs with Iranians working at the embassy of Iran in Saudi Arabia. The public affairs have included the destiny of Shiite if King Abdullah dies and Prince Naif has assumed office, reasons for demonstrations at Al-Ahssa, the reasons behind arresting Sheik Tawfiq Alamer (who has called for a constitutional kingdom), and security issues in Al-Qatif and Bahrain.  Ahmed Alnaser has also been convicted for listening to an Iranian employee saying that demonstrations in Al-Qatif occurred because of the injustice inflicted on the Shiite people, and has been charged with covering up for the Iranian employee, instead of reporting him.

Sheik Ali Alkbaish (born in 1972) has been convicted of the so called ‘crime’ of seeing three Saudis, who were wanted by the Saudi government, at public events when he visited Iran and not reporting them. Moreover, he was also charged with fundraising for the purpose of assisting families of detained persons. Alkbaish was sentenced to two years in jail. Based on this imprisonment term, he should have been released now as he has completed the sentence duration, yet sources informed ESOHR that he is still remains in jail at the time of writing this report.

Dr. Abass Alabbad (1961) who has been sentenced to death, has also been convicted of meeting with Iranian officials many times at his house, talking to them about the health conditions of King Fahad and four of the princes, in addition to talking about Al-Qatif demonstrations.



The analysis undertaken by ESOHR on official “verdict” of the espionage spy ring trial, confirms that the government has committed gross violations of international law and of commitments that have been endorsed by the government, during all of stages of the trial. ESOHR believes that the Saudi Government does not offer (despite their claims of fair procedures), any procedural safeguards which meet acceptable fair trial standards, whether they international or local justice systems. In fact, several gross violations were documented such as the practice of torture, depriving victims of the right to hire a lawyer for three years and keeping them in solitary confinement,

ESOHR has documented that the accused individuals have been subjected to an arbitrary arrest, and a trial which has not been public. The accused persons could have been trialed while released on bail to secure guarantees against torture or intimidation being exercised by the prison or the investigation department. The victims were left with no chance to file complaints against the institutions (or entities) that have violated their rights, and this denial of rights began from the moment they were detained up until the time they there sentenced.

ESOHR expresses serious concerns regarding the lives of those who have been issued final death judgements. The Saudi Government executed Sheikh Al-Nimr and others following notorious unfair trials with flagrant flaws that could not be overlooked. ESOHR published a legal analysis of the death sentence of Mohammed Al-Shioukh, who executed by Saudi Arabia during the mass execution of January 2016. The analysis demonstrated a “Grave Miscarriage of Justice”. Fears for the lives of the accused persons are heightened in the light of the ongoing political tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia; they are at imminent risk and may be killed at any moment.

The ESOHR sees that achieving justice for those individuals accused of espionage for Iran can be manifested through holding liable and bringing to trial, all those who have given orders, or were involved inviolation of the victims’ rights and in their torture. The disregard shown by the Saudi Government toward the violations inflicted on these individuals or the implementing their killing is the evidence that undoubtedly emphasizes the deterioration of the justice system in Saudi Arabia. This justice system is used for purposes other than achieving justice and in fact perverts the course of justice. Achieving justice also requires a re-trial of these individuals, while released on bail, in the presence of observers in the courtroom without restrictions, threats or intimidation.

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