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Saudi Arabia: Seeking hudud punishment for hiraba for HRD tortured during interrogation

Hussein al-Farraj

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In a serious development regarding the death penalty in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the public prosecution has sought the hudud punishment for hiraba (waging war against God) for a human rights defender who led demonstrations and funeral marches for demonstrators, activists, and photographers killed by Saudi forces during various demonstrations and raids. The Saudi government arrested Hussein al-Farraj (born in 1976) on January 17, 2017, and has detained him since then in the Mabahith (secret police) prison in the Dammam governorate.

Saudi Arabia has issued ta’zir (discretionary) death sentences against no fewer than 40 detainees in connection with demonstrations and holding certain opinions. Ta’zir is a penalty imposed on the accused by a judge for a crime with no specified punishment in Islam, i.e. it is a discretionary punishment from the judge that is not stated in the two primary legal sources in Islam: the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. However, it appears that the request for the hudud punishment for hiraba against Hussein al-Farraj comes in the context of an increasing use of the death penalty, extending also to a minor, Murtaja Qureiris, who was accused of demonstrating at the age of 11. The Saudi government rescinded Qureiris’s sentence after media and legal pressure.

In seeking the hudud punishment for hiraba against al-Farraj, the public prosecution is relying on verse 33 of Surah Maida in the Quran {The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the hereafter theirs will be an awful doom} even though al-Farraj has not been charged with a single act of violence. This reveals the Saudi government’s utter disregard for the right to life of people with different opinions, its attempt to grant religious legitimacy to its oppressive, violent, and unfair tendencies, and its incoherent use of religious texts.

The Saudi public prosecution, which is directly linked to King Salman, has brought several charges against al-Farraj in connection with exercising his right to freedom of expression, such as participating in the Arab Spring demonstrations in Qatif governorate in February 2011, and seeking to destabilize the social fabric and national cohesion by “leading” demonstrations and funeral marches for victims of the Saudi government. These victims were illegally killed by gunfire during peaceful demonstrations and in raids carried out with the intent to arrest or liquidate wanted persons in the streets and resulted in the killing of many bystanders, including two children, Thamar Al Rabie and Walid al-Aridh. Al-Farraj was also accused of preparing, sending, and storing material harmful to the public order by photographing the injuries of demonstrators Morsi Al Ribeh, killed by Saudi forces on June 22, 2013, and Mohammed Saleh al-Zenadi, detained since March 23, 2012, and recirculating photos of the body of media photographer Hussein Ali al-Farraj, killed by Saudi forces on February 20, 2014, while filming their armed raid on a house. The Saudi government also charged al-Farraj with aiding the wounded and contacting wanted persons.

At eight o’clock on the morning of January 17, 2017, Saudi forces stormed the human rights defender Hussein al-Farraj’s family home and attacked him in his bedroom on the second floor, severely beating him with machine gun butts and kicking him and dragging him out of the house by his legs. As a result, he was seriously injured and needed hospitalization at the beginning of his detention. Saudi forces also destroyed the doors of the house and its contents.

ESOHR sources noted that Saudi Arabia has subjected Hussein al-Farraj to various forms of torture to force him to make a confession, including:

  1. Removing five of his nails.
  2. Shocking him with electricity after stripping him completely naked.
  3. Hitting his genitals.
  4. Turning him upside down and keeping him head down until fainting.
  5. Depriving him of sleep through forced wakefulness.
  6. Forcing him to take narcotic hallucinogenic drugs.
  7. Beating him severely with metal cables.
  8. Pulling on his breasts with pliers.
  9. Stripping him naked during interrogation.

Besides the systematic torture of Hussein al-Farraj, Mabahith interrogators isolated him in solitary confinement for seven months, four of which came after his arrest and discharge from the hospital following injuries he sustained by the manner of his arrest. He spent 95 more days in solitary confinement before the period for certification of his statements. In some cases, Mabahith prisons rely on torture or intimidation of detainees before sending them to certify their statements before the certifying judge at the court. Hussein al-Farraj had been isolated in solitary confinement for more than three months in order to force him to accept the certification of his statements without objection. Victims are tortured again if they refuse to certify their statements, which are often written by the interrogators themselves. Al-Farraj was deprived of his right to an attorney throughout the period of interrogation that was marred by profound violations of his basic rights. He was not allowed to contact an attorney until after he received the indictment.

Special forces and members of the Mabahith raided al-Farraj’s home twice after his arrest. The first time was on May 4, 2017, at 2:45 a.m., when they broke down the doors of the house and destroyed its contents, terrorizing his family at gunpoint and arresting all the men present without providing an arrest warrant. After one day, they were released on bail.

On the afternoon of November 8, 2017, special forces and members of the Mabahith again raided the house, again destroying the doors and contents of the home. At the same time, another team of special forces and Mabahith members raided the home of al-Farraj’s sister, breaking down the doors and destroying its contents in the process, and arresting his sister’s sons, Asaad and Ahmed. Ahmed was forcibly disappeared for nearly five months after being hit by a bullet when the assault team opened fire with machine guns inside the house. The team also seized SAR 280,000 (€ 67,000), and has yet to return it to the family. The ESOHR’s confidential sources mentioned that the reason for the two raids was to attempt to arrest or kill Saud al-Farraj (the brother of Hussein al-Farraj) who was being pursued by the Saudi government in connection with his participation in previous demonstrations. On May 4, 2017, special forces and members of the Mabahith opened fire on Saud al-Farraj’s car located inside the garage during a raid on the home because they believed that he was inside the car. In many cases, Saudi forces have deliberately chosen the option of directly killing wanted persons. From September 26, 2012 to July 2, 2019, Saudi Arabia carried out about 35 extrajudicial killings.

Death sentences have escalated since King Salman took office and the powers of his son, the Crown Prince, expanded. According to ESOHR statistics, since the beginning of King Salman’s reign on January 23, 2015, until the end of July 2019, Saudi Arabia has carried out no fewer than 732 death sentences. The ESOHR has documented ten executions of minors. In the first half of this year, Saudi Arabia put 122 people to death, including six minors executed as part of the slaughter of 37 people, following grossly unfair trials in which the judges disregarded complaints of systematic torture from most of the victims. This number represents a sharp increase of 121% compared to the first half of 2018, which saw 55 executions. As of August 2, 2019, 32 people remain at risk of execution according to ESOHR statistics, including four who were minors at the time of their alleged crimes: Dawood al-Marhoon, Ali Al Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher, and Mahmoud al-Qallaf. Others still at risk include researcher Hassan al-Maliki, Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, Sheikh Awad al-Qarni, Ali al-Amri, and many other activists such as the group of Israa al-Ghomgham, Ali al-Awayshir, Ahmed al-Matroud, Moussa al-Hashem, and Khalid al-Ghanim.

The ESOHR believes that seeking the hudud punishment for hiraba against al-Farraj is merely bloody government violence that does not comply with any domestic or international law. The organization stresses that, based on its understanding of the course of events and procedures, al-Farraj’s trial lacks the most basic standards of fairness. Likewise, the ESOHR believes that one of the reasons for the increase in death sentences in Saudi Arabia is the continuing political cover provided by states benefitting economically from Saudi Arabia, most notably the United States and the United Kingdom.

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