The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia marked the year of 2016 with a collective execution of 47 people. According to its Interior Ministry’s press release issued Saturday morning, 2 January, 2016 the executed are accused of “terrorism, insult the reputation of the state, fraud & deception, as well as hatred speech” related ‘crimes’. Such a step adds to the already full index of the Kingdom’s human rights violations. Last year, the Kingdom executed 153 people. The list would apparently exceed these figures in the coming year.
The Shia religious cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr was on the top of January’s executions. Amnesty International stated in a press release that Al-Nimr along with the other convicted citizens underwent “a political & an unfair trial held in the Specialized Criminal Court”. AI added that all of the convicted, with the exception of Sheikh al-Nimr & three others were accused of their links to the terrorist group of al Qaeda.
This report will present some of the top world human rights organizations’ reactions to KSA executions. These reactions broadly express condemnation, criticism & frustration. The report will also present the reactions of some international great countries, as well as the press releases of some Saudi human rights institutions. The report will finally introduce the nature of KSA ‘Criminal Court’ which is specialized in ‘terrorism’ related accusations & which is authorized to convict sentence to death based on the new Terrorism Law, issued in the year of 2014 & according to which all of the recently 47 executed people had been judged & convicted, as the state-owned KSA news agency reported.
The International Human Rights Organizations Statements
Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, expressed his “deep dismay” over the recent execution by Saudi Arabia of 47 people including the cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr. “Sheikh al-Nimr & a number of the other prisoners executed had been convicted following trials that raised serious concerns over the nature of the charges & the fairness of the process”, said UN Secretary-General Spokesman in a statement issued Saturday evening. “The Secretary-General had raised the case of Sheikh al-Nimr with the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions, “the Spokesman said. “The Secretary-General reiterates his strong stance against the death penalty” as saying that there has been “a growing movement in the international community for the abolition of capital punishment.” Besides that, he called up for “calm & restrain in reaction to the execution of Sheikh Nimr.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zaid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed his “deep sorrow” for the execution of 47 people in Saudi Arabia “in one day”. Al-Hussein issued a statement on Sunday 3 January, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland. He highly stressed over the execution of Sheikh al-Nimr & the other prisoners who didn’t commit any crimes that could be categorized as “’most serious crimes” under the International Humanitarian Law. Al-Hussein also stated that under the International Law “the category of ‘most serious crimes,’ for which the death penalty is still permissible, has been consistently interpreted by human rights mechanisms as being restricted to murder and other forms of intentional killing,”. Al-Hussein added that death penalty cannot be sentenced unless there are strict measures & fair trial that is going on in “full transparency”. He also said that “may only be carried out if there has been stringent respect of due process and fair trial guarantees, and full transparency throughout the process. Convictions cannot be based on confessions obtained under torture and ill-treatment, or trial proceedings that fall short of international standards.” He emphasized that applying death penalty in such circumstances is “unconscionable”.
The UN Higher Commissioner expressed his deep concerns over the sharp increase of death penalty cases in Saudi Arabia- 157 in the year of 2015 in comparison with 90 in 2014.“Now we see almost one-third of the 2015 total executed in one day,” said Al-Hussein & voiced an immediate call to Saudi Arabia to stop all death penalty verdicts & also to work with UN for finding alternative solutions to encountering terrorism.
Amnesty International accused Saudi authorities of the political interests behind the executions, as well as in oppressing the opposition in to “counter-terror” pretext. Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International said: ““It is a bloody day when the Saudi Arabian authorities execute 47 people, some of whom were clearly sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials. Carrying out a death sentence when there are serious questions about the fairness of the trial is a monstrous and irreversible injustice.”. Luther added that “The Saudi Arabian authorities must heed the growing chorus of international criticism and put an end to their execution spree”.
Human Rights Watch stated in a report released 4 January, 2016 that “Saudi authorities carried out the largest mass execution in the country since 1980, putting 47 men to death on January 2, 2016”.
“Saudi Arabia had a shameful start to 2016, executing 47 people in a day, after a year with one of the highest execution rates in its recent history. The death penalty is never the answer to crimes, and executing prisoners en masse further stains Saudi Arabia’s troubling human rights record.” Said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. She also added that “The death penalty is never the answer to crimes, and executing prisoners en masse further stains Saudi Arabia’s troubling human rights record.” HRW report distinguished between Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr & other three Shia activists on the one hand & the other prisoners who “were members of Al Qaeda”on the other hand. The report stated that Saudi Arabia sentenced “Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric sentenced to death in 2014 after a Saudi court convicted him on a host of vague charges apparently based largely on his peaceful criticism of Saudi officials”. Relating to the other prisoners convicted, HRW report stated that they were accused of “a series of Al Qaeda attacks across the country between 2003 and 2004”. The report criticized the KSA Interior Ministry release for not defining who’s accused of what but instead attaching all to all with no details. HRW report presented the story of the arrest of Sheikh al-Nimr; the accusations against him; the documentation of the procedures related to his trial. The report also questioned each accusation solemnly. The report documented all of the Saudi authorities’ violations against a correct process of judiciary system & considered that these violations have been flawing this system since long time ago- the issue that according to the report- makes it so difficult for the accused to be guaranteed a fair trial even in death penalty cases. The organization raised serious concerns in an analysis released in September, 2015 over the fairness of the procedures of four trials held by the Saudi Specialized Criminal Court against some Shia protestors. The report stated that the accusations were bombastic & didn’t resemble any classified crimes. The report also pointed to the authorities’ denial of the access of lawyers during the arrest or during provisional detention; the authorities’ quick denial of torture without holding any investigation; moreover, the authorities’ acceptance of confessions taken compulsorily from the suspected as they themselves claim. Back to HRW statement over the execution of Sheikh al-Nimr & other prisoners, Whitson concluded that “Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric following an unfair trial only adds to the existing sectarian discord and unrest,” Whitson said.
“Saudi Arabia’s path to stability in the Eastern Province lies in ending systematic discrimination against Shia citizens, not in executions.”
Kenneth Roth, The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch wrote on his social media account, Twitter: “Saudi message to dissidents (especially Shia): Protest & we’ll execute you as a “terrorist”.”
All of the ‘Americans for Democracy’, ‘Human Rights in Bahrain’, ‘Bahrain Institution for Rights & Democracy’, the ‘European Center for Democracy & Human Rights’ condemned in a joint release the execution of “the reformer Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr along with other 46 people”. The joint statement urged the international community to intervene to prevent more bloodshed. The statement mentioned that the trail of Sheikh al-Nimr was conducted by a specialized criminal court which is separate from the whole traditional Saudi judiciary system; he was drown by claimed accusations of violating duly laws; the court condemned him in 2003 & thus he lost his last appeal & death penalty verdict was carried out today”. The statement considered that the execution of Sheikh al-Nimr with other suspected accused of their links to al-Qaeda in the Kingdom during the last decade is an evidence of the vague & misleading Saudi definition of terrorism- a definition that equate carrying out offensive crimes to peacefully criticism of the King or the Minister of Interior on social media, like Twitter.
European Union expressed its “serious concerns” over the execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr. “The specific case of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr raises serious concerns regarding freedom of expression and the respect of basic civil and political rights, to be safeguarded in all cases, also in the framework of the fight against terrorism,” said Federica Mogherini, EU Higher Representative for Foreign Affairs, in a statement. She also reemphasized EU’s “strong opposition to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, and in particular in cases of mass executions”.
Martin Schulz, European Parliament President, condemned KSA execution of 47 people on top of whom was Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. He stated on his social account on Twitter that “One death penalty is one too many. Saudi Arabia killing of 47 including Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr is unacceptable & inhumane. I firmly condemn it.”.
US Foreign Affairs Minister stated that US administration urged Saudi authorities “to show respect for human rights & to follow transparent judiciary procedures,” as well as “to allow the opposition to have their say peacefully.” It also warned over taking such step that arose anger in both Shia & Islamic communities “this threatens igniting sectarian tensions”.
United Kingdom of Britain, France, Germany & Italy condemned KSA executions of 47 people including Sheikh al-Nimr.
Opposite to the international community shocking stances, local stances over KSA executions of the 47 people including Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr expressed “total support”; moreover, “triumph of justice”. The report will quote the statement of the Ministry of Interiors in Saudi Arabia & some other pro-state declarations.
Dr Muflih bin Rbei’an al-Qahtani, Head of the National Association of Human Rights, found the international community stances of human rights organizations & states strange. Al-Qahtani emphasized the role of the accusations he formed to bring the suspected to justice; sentencing them for the crimes they had committed & also to getting them fair trials. He added that the day that folds the end of these suspects for the crimes they did has come; they have undergone three degrees of judiciary; each suspect’s verdict has been revised carefully; every suspect has been guaranteed the right of appointing a lawyer; the trials were open, disclosing the severity of each suspect’s crime & focusing on the crimes not the suspects’ sect or race. Al-Qahtani emphasized that the victims deserve the establishment of justice, as well as the retribution of the perpetrators who killed & terrified; in addition to that, all of the crimes attributed to the sentenced are grave & worthy of maximum punishments.
Sheikh Salman bin Muhammad al-Nashwan, the Secretary-General of Higher Council of Judiciary said that despite all what the perpetuators did, they have been guaranteed their right of defending themselves in fair & open trails, in the presence of the officers in charge; they have been also guaranteed the right of appointing lawyers to defend them & those who weren’t able to, the authorities appointed lawyers to defend them. In all, the perpetuators have enjoyed all of the judiciary guarantees.
Sheikh Dr Walid bin Muhammad al-Sam’ani, the Minister of Justice, said the perpetuators are killers; yet, they have enjoyed all necessary judiciary procedures that guarantee the establishment of justice. Al-Sam’ani stated that the judiciary system in Saudi Arabia is well-founded, impartial, based on the laws & systems of the Islamic Sharia Law- all of which that guaranteed the rights of the victims on the one hand & got punished from the sinful people on the other hand. He stated that all of the sentenced people have been judged in the Specialized Criminal Court affiliated to the Kingdom’s courts & that they all have enjoyed the rights that guarantee their fair trials with judges that are independent with no higher authorities except of the Islamic Sharia.
The Specialized Criminal Court –Terrorism Law
The report will present a briefing of the history of the Specialized Criminal Court in Saudi Arabia which rules under the Terrorism Law & how it issues its verdicts since all of the executed people in the morning of 2 January were sentenced in the Specialized Criminal Court & judged according to the Saudi Terrorism Law.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia promulgated the “Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing” in February 2014. The Law was issued by the Parliament of Ministers in the mid of 2013 & was ratified by King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz. This new legislation is made up of 41 clauses. To say like: “any activist that undermines the government or the society by even calling for “the change of the regime in the Kingdom; or breaking any of the fundamental rules or items of the system; or urging the government to do anything or not doing something; or attacking any Saudi citizen outside the kingdom” all of which are classified as terrorist crime.
The newly established law defines terrorist crime as follows: “Every act made by a perpetuator & is a part of carrying out a potential crime that is offensive, individualistic, or group work, in a direct or indirect way in the intention of harming public order; shaking the security of society; participating in calling for and inciting breaking allegiance with the ruler, etc.” The law stated that all of its items to be applied on any person, Saudi or foreigner, who commits one of the crimes mentioned above.
UN conventions & documents related to human rights & encountering terrorism urge for usage of specific terms in the making of the laws of encountering terrorism. The UN body warns over the usage of misleading words or vague definitions which allow the abuse & violating the standards of human rights. UN urges on “describing the behavior of any perpetuator in a very accurate language with no ambiguity; accurately describing the crime that deserves punishment & distinguishing it from any other behavior which is not criminal or which is worthy of other sorts of punishments.”
This inclusive & quick observation indicates how the Saudi Terrorism Law contradicts the international human rights laws & also contradicts UN human rights committee which is in charge of observing the deployment of the international conventions of civil & political human rights. The UN committee expressed its dissatisfaction concerning the definition of terrorism in a very wide & broad way. In addition to that, the special Rapporteur for Human Rights & Encountering Terrorism raised concern in 2005 in a number of occasions regarding the “broad” definition of terrorism which according to the Rapporteur “allows t be used against those who criticize & any members of the opposition movements”.
Besides that, the Saudi Terrorism Law has allowed imposing arbitrary conditions over the right of expression in the pretext of protecting national security. In this course, the UN Rapporteur drew attention towards the measures taken to encounter terrorism in accordance with the laws of freedom of expression.
The Saudi Terrorism Law establishes an open criminalizing policy in Saudi Arabia; it also open the door wide leaving the citizen in a worrying status in front of a series of floating, vague & unexplained terms. The Rapporteur added that it is impossible for these terms to be direct or to determine the punishment or to classify the crime. Thus, this broadness in the term usage will allow issuing verdicts against citizens in a broad way; the individual will be sentenced to punishment or criminalizing based on weak accusations that are devoid of justice meanings.
Thus, the Saudi Organization for Rights & Freedom emphasizes that issuing the Saudi Terrorism Law & deploying it reflects the authorities total undermining of the International Law of Human Rights, as well as the mechanisms set by UN conventions that have been founded to provide protection. Unfortunately, the Saudi Terrorism Law was released few months following the international scanning of KSA in a complete periodical observation of its human rights status, as well as having KSA a seat in Human Rights Council which is affiliated to UN.
The SORF draws attention that before issuing this law, the Saudi authorities without the fear of being blamed or questioned had been tracing human rights defenders & opposition people in Saudi Arabia deploying for this purpose its courts, as well as all possible means that are out of judiciary frame like the arbitrary banning from travel & so on.
The Saudi authorities have put the new Terrorism Law in effect since February 2014 especially against human rights defenders & opposition activists in the country. Based on this law, the authorities have issued long term sentences of imprisonment against the defenders & activists- the sentences have included death penalty. All of these violations are happening in the Specialized Criminal Court whose judiciary affiliation is ambiguous & moreover follows procedures featured by confidentiality.
The SORF emphasizes the necessity that the international community & human rights bodies monitor the severe violations practiced by the official & judicial authorities in Saudi Arabia in the name of applying justice while laws are imposed amid the continuing collapse of the overall human rights status in the country in the time that human rights movement there aims at creating radical reforms & change that goes in line with the international justice principle.
The SORF condemns the series of the Saudi authorities’ violations that have been taking place since the emerge of the new Terrorism Law that permits arbitrary arrest of suspected people up until carrying out arbitrary death penalties that took place in the beginning of the year of 2016. The date of 2 January, 2016 is now recorded as the day of issuing the most oppressing & controversial verdicts on human rights level & according to all of the international conventions as well as to all of the ethical & religious laws. It has been the largest collective execution in the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia- the act whose waves hit not only the Saudi territories but the world, as well. This will always blemish the judiciary lawmaker in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Organization for Rights & Freedom