Publication date: 01/12/2020

New trial proceedings have commenced before the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh for several activists, including Khaled al-Omair, Mohamed al-Oteibi and those arrested in April 2019, as the Saudi authorities intensify their crackdown.

ALQST has received a message from detained human rights activist Khaled al-Omair, entitled “save the prisoners of conscience”. He describes being brought before the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) on 8 September 2020, in which the Public Prosecution accused him of leading a campaign for a constitution and creating a hashtag on Twitter. 

Al-Omair, who attended court with his feet in shackles, refused to respond to the Prosecution’s allegations, due to the denial of his basic rights and the lack of impartiality of the court. He was told by the court that if he did not respond then the accusations would be accepted. His next court session is scheduled for 8 December 2020, in which the verdict may be issued against him. His full message can be read below. 

Al-Omair has been detained since the end of June 2018. In December 2019, he smuggled out a message that he wrote on a piece of tissue paper, in which he protested against his detention without charge, and announced he would go on a hunger strike, along with other prisoners of conscience. He announced the suspension of his hunger strike on 11 February 2020, after the Public Prosecutor’s Office informed him that his case had been handed over to it by State Security.

Khaled al-Omair was first arrested by secret police on 1 January 2009 in Riyadh after taking part in a peaceful demonstration in support of Gaza, and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Several others were also arrested for taking part in the demonstration, including fellow human rights activist Mohamed al-Oteibi, who was sentenced to three years. 

Mohamed al-Oteibi is currently serving a 14-year prison term, sentenced by the Specialised Criminal Court on charges including “forming an unlicensed organisation” (Al-Ittehad Human Rights Association). He was arrested on 24 May 2017 at Doha International Airport while he was on his way to Norway, where he had been accepted for political asylum, then extradited to Saudi Arabia, where he was then sentenced.

On 25 July 2019, al-Oteib was brought back to court in a new trial, facing four new charges of "fleeing justice", "going to Qatar", "communicating with foreign entities", and "interfering in public affairs”. Several further trial sessions have taken place since, which have been marred by numerous violations of international fair trial guarantees, including the denial of access to a lawyer and access to documents he needs to prepare his response to the charges. He will appear before the Specialised Criminal Court for his next hearing on 1 December, in which the verdict may be issued against him. 

ALQST has also received news that 13 activists, writers and family members of women human rights defenders who were arrested in a wave of arrests in April 2019 were brought to court on 30 September 2020. These individuals include Salah al-Haidar, son of women’s rights activist Aziza al-Yousef (currently facing unfair trial), writers Bader al-Ibrahim, Mohammed al-Sadiq, Thumar al-Marzouqi, Abdullah al-Duhailan, Nayef al-Hindas, Ali al-Saffar, Redha al-Boori and Khadija al-Harbi, novelist Moqbel al-Saqqar, activists Fahad Abalkhail and Ayman al-Drees, and lawyer Abdullah al-Shehri. Their second trial session is scheduled to take place on 21 December. 

Recently, on 25 November 2020, after months of delays and prolonged detention without their trials proceeding, women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Nassima al-Sadah, Samar Badawi and Nouf Abdulaziz were brought before the Criminal Court in Riyadh in separate trial sessions. Loujain al-Hathloul’s case was transferred to the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) after the Criminal Court stated that it was “outside its jurisdiction”.

ALQST calls on the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against these activists and immediately and unconditionally release all those who are detained for the peaceful expression of their opinions or for acting to promote human rights. 

Background 

In March 2020, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Judicial Council postponed hearings in the kingdom’s courts until further notice in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the resumption of the courts in August, several prisoners of conscience have been sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. On 3 September, the Specialised Criminal Court sentenced writer Abdullah al-Maliki to seven years in prison, on charges related to his cultural activities, such as “possession of banned books”, and other charges including defending members of civil rights group ACPRA. On the same day, the court sentenced Ibrahim al-Harthi (five years), writer Ahmad al-Sawian (three years), academic Yousef al-Qassim (five years), Khaled al-Ojaimi (44-months) and journalist Fahad al-Sunaidi (three and a half years) on charges relating to free speech. On 3 October, prison sentences were issued against three detainees held arbitrarily since September 2017: Nayef al-Sahafi (ten years), Mosad al-Kathiri (three and a half years), and Ali Badahdah (six years).

Message from detained human rights activist Khaled al-Omair

Third Communiqué: 
Save the prisoners of conscience
 
"In our country, when someone who holds an opinion appears in court he finds himself before an adversary, not before an independent judiciary that judges between two opposing parties. Because the judiciary in our country works on a basis of monolithic thought that basically doesn’t believe in a plurality of opinions, or in the right to hold an opinion that is even slightly different from that of the authorities, let alone an opposing view.  So this judiciary cannot be anything other than biased towards the authorities in its ideas and its judgements.

On 8 September 2020 I appeared before the Specialised Court for terrorism cases and listened to the Public Prosecution’s case against me, in which it accused me of leading the campaign for a constitution and creating the hashtag #[ThePeopleWantANewConstitution].  After the Public Prosecutor had read out his charge sheet, I asked the judge, in whose hands I was now supposed be, by virtue of my appearing before him, to release me on bail so that I could defend myself as a free person, because I am currently being treated by State Security as a criminal and not as a defendant. I reminded him of the provisions of Article 1 of the Basic Law of the state, which decrees that the judiciary is independent and not subject to anyone’s authority.  However, the judge confirmed his lack of independence by saying that he did not have the authority to release me, that I was in hands of the Public Prosecution, and that it was the Public Prosecution that had the authority to do that.  So I put the request to the Public Prosecution there at the same session, and it too rejected it in turn... although State Security and the Public Prosecution have pulled back from trying me under the Terrorism Law, under which I was arrested, imprisoned and deprived of my rights, and they have instead put me on trial under the Cybercrime Law, breaching which is not a major crime that requires arrest.  And so based on this assessment of the position taken by State Security and the Public Prosecution, the Specialised Court for terrorism cases is no longer competent to hear my case; in fact it should be in the General Court, where defendants are let out on bail during trials.  But bear in mind that the general (normal) judiciary also works according the same monolithic thinking, that utterly denies the right even to express an opinion if it differs from that of the authorities, as in the Specialised Court for terrorism cases.
 
And so I declare my refusal to continue with this trial unless I obtain my rights as a defendant, which are stipulated in all domestic laws and international agreements.  As I indicated in my previous two communiqués, the principal ones are my release on bail and court hearings being held openly, before an independent judiciary that has control over its own actions and works according to the principles of human rights, one of the most important of which being people’s right to express their opinions in any way, by any means, at any time, without fear or dread, because there is not the slightest doubt that the judiciary in its present form is a politicised judiciary.
 
I am addressing this notification to the UN Human Rights Council, renewing the call to them to visit us in Al Ha’ir Prison to see the violations I have suffered personally and other prisoners of conscience have suffered in the prisons of the Saudi regime, and the violations carried out towards us by the Public Prosecution and the Specialised Court, such as prolonging the duration of arbitrary detention, extending and supplementing the already lengthy period of extrajudicial detention by the State Security apparatus.  This proves that these agencies are nothing but multiple names for a single repressive apparatus that operates in a coordinated and integrated manner to oppress the people under a veneer of purported legality.  And the fact that I and others are currently in prison confirms this.
 
This bitter situation compels me to continue calling for a new constitution for our country to be written, taking as its reference point the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its Annexes; based on the total separation of powers; guaranteeing rights and freedoms, first and foremost among them freedom of belief, freedom of political dissent, and freedom of opinion and expression; ending the tyranny of absolute autocratic rule; and ensuring justice for all.  For it is our right as a people to live like other peoples of the world, free in our country and in ourselves the way God created us, not imprisoned in our silence, afraid of our voices and running away from our shadows."
 
Khaled al-Omair, Al-Ha’ir Political Prison, Block 3, Cell 7

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