Saudi Govt Accused of Using Judiciary to Silence Activists

Three prominent Saudi human rights activists are facing serious charges in a series of court cases that took place over the last few weeks. The latest of these cases was brought against Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), and someone who has been tirelessly working to promote human rights in the country and bravely criticizing government’s record on the subject. Al-Qahtani appeared in court in Riyadh earlier this week.

The public prosecutor accused him of eleven charges related to his activism. Here is a link to the public prosecutor’s memo (Arabic PDF); below is a translation of the charges against him:

  1. Attempting to plant the seeds of discord and strife, breaking allegiance to the ruler and his successor, questioning the integrity of and insulting state officials.
  2. Questioning the integrity and piety of the members of the Senior Ulema Council by – falsely – accusing it to be a tool that approves government policies in return for financial and moral support as in the case of forbidding street protests.
  3. Accusing Saudi judiciary in its regulations and applications of being unable to deliver justice for breaching the standards set by Islamic Sharia.
  4. Accusing Saudi judiciary of being unjust by allowing torture and accepting confessions extracted under duress.
  5. Accusing the Saudi regime – unfairly – of being a police state built on injustice and oppression veiled in religion, and using the judiciary to legitimize injustice to continue its systematic approach to violate human rights.
  6. Inciting public opinion by accusing security bodies and their senior officials of oppression, torture, assassination, enforced disappearances, and violating human rights.
  7. Antagonizing international organizations against the Kingdom, and instigating them to focus on criticizing the Kingdom’s civic, political, economical, social and cultural fundamentals.
  8. Co-founding an unlicensed organization and making it appear as a reality by which he attempts to oppose state policy, spread divisiveness and disunity, spread accusations against the state’s judiciary and executive institutions and senior officials of injustice and transgressions; engaging in specialities that affect others’ rights and freedoms and the encroachment upon the specialties of governmental and non-governmental organizations (Human Rights Commission, National Society for Human Rights) and participating in writing statements released by them and publishing it on the internet.
  9. Preparing, storing and sending what could affect general order which is punishable by Section 1 in Article 6 of the E-Crimes law.
  10. Describing the General Intelligence body [mabaheth] as illegal militias.
  11. Providing false information as true facts and delivering them to official international bodies (UN Human Rights Council) which includes statements he delivered to these international organizations about proceedings regarding suing individuals that he gave which contradicts the truth and reality documented in official papers.

The two other activists facing similar charges, but in separate court cases, all pressed by the same public prosecutor, are Abdullah al-Hamed and Waleed Abu Al-Khair. In a gesture of support, they both attended the court hearing when al-Qahtani was accused of the charges listed above.

He remains defiant. “History is being written here,” al-Qahtani reportedly told his son after the court hearing, surrounded by 30 activists who were there.

Amnesty International said the case against al-Qahtani is part of part of a crackdown on human rights activists in the country and that it should be thrown out of court.

“The Saudi Arabian authorities’ trial of Mohammad al-Qahtani is just one of a troubling string of court cases aimed at silencing the Kingdom’s human rights activists,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program. The government must end its crackdown against activists, he said.

“This must come to an end and human rights defenders must be allowed to carry on their crucial work to expose human rights violations and call for justice and accountability.”

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Rights Bodies Appeal for Two Saudis

Human Rights Watch has urged courts in Jeddah to dismiss a case against Rai’f Badawi, founder of Saudi Liberals forums. On May 5, the prosecutor charged Badawi with “setting up an electronic site that insults Islam,” and referred the case to court, asking for a five-year prison sentence and a 3 million riyal fine.

Badawi no longer owns or controls the website. After unknown hackers, who probably think they were doing some sort of electronic jihad, attacked the website several times and threatened him and his family, he sold the website and fled the country two weeks ago. A new owner announced a while ago that he took over the website, which has been offline for more than a week now.

It is understood that Badawi will be tried according to the E-Crimes Act that has been issued in March 2007. The act, which can be found here (Arabic PDF), contains some laws that seem to target free speech such as Article 6 which incriminates “producing content which violates general order, religious values, public morals or sanctity of private life, or preparing it, or sending it, or storing it via the network or a computer.”

The questions is: who defines and specifies what are those religious values and what are those public morals? I don’t know if this act has been approved by the Shoura Council or not, because I think it is unacceptable for the Council to approve such act that contains these vague laws and articles which contradicts international conventions and accords on which Saudi Arabia is a signatory.

amnesty_logo On a related note, Amnesty International are appealing for Muhammad Ali Abu Raziza, a psychology professor at the University of Um al-Qura, who has been sentenced to 150 lashes and eight months’ imprisonment for meeting a woman in a coffee shop. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this case and the reports on it in the local press has been full of contradictions. Therefor, I can’t make up my mind on who is at fault here.

However, I think the Commission should seriously reconsider how to define and deal with this whole “khulwa” thing. When a man and a woman meet in a public place like a cafe, a restaurant, or in the street where they are surrounded by people and others can see them, does it constitute a khulwa? I doubt that they will ever think this through but I guess it’s worth asking anyway.