Friday, September 11, 2009

Saudi Arabia – countering terrorism with repression

Amnesty International, September 11, 2009

A Saudi special forces soldier stands guard at a check point, 5 February 2005, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi special forces soldier stands guard at a check point, 5 February 2005, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

© AP/PA Photo/Amr Nabil

Since the September 11 attacks in the USA eight years ago, the Saudi Arabian authorities have launched a sustained assault on human rights in the name of countering terrorism. The attacks were carried out by a group that included Saudi Arabian nationals.

“The anti-terrorism measures introduced since 2001 have set back the process of limited human rights reform in Saudi Arabia,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“Combined with severe repression of all forms of dissent and a weak human rights framework, there is now an almost complete lack of protection of freedoms and rights.”

An Amnesty International briefing paper, launched on Friday, describes the shocking scale of abuses. Thousands of people have had their lives devastated by violations of their basic rights. Some have been arrested and detained in virtual secrecy, while others have been killed in uncertain circumstances.

Hundreds more people face secret and summary trials and possible execution. Many are reported to have been tortured in order to extract confessions or as punishment after conviction.

Since Amnesty International’s July 2009 report, Saudi Arabia: Assaulting Human Rights in the Name of Counter-Terrorism, the government has announced that 330 people have been tried on terrorism charges in recent months, virtually all of whom were convicted in closed trials, with sentences ranging from fines to the death penalty. However, they have not disclosed their names or details of the charges, maintaining the extreme secrecy of the trial process.

Of the thousands detained by the authorities, some are prisoners of conscience, targeted for their peaceful criticism of government policies. The majority are suspected supporters of Islamist groups or factions opposed to the Saudi Arabian government’s close links to the USA and other Western countries.

Such groups have carried out a number of attacks targeting Westerners and others, and are officially dubbed as “misguided”. The detainees also include people forcibly returned from Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries.

“The abuses take place behind a wall of secrecy. Detainees are held with no idea of what is going to happen to them,” said Malcolm Smart.

“Most are held incommunicado for years without trial, and are denied access to lawyers and the courts to challenge the legality of their detention. This has a devastating effect on both the individuals who are detained and on their families.”

Case studies

Abdul Rahim al-Mirbati, a 48-year-old Bahraini businessman, was arrested in 2003 or 2004 in Madina. His family say he had travelled to Saudi Arabia to seek medical treatment for his 13-year-old son.

During three months of detention in al-Ruwais Prison in Jeddah, he was denied visits and is reported to have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated. Following a series of transfers, he is currently held in al-Dammam Central Prison.

Although he is said to have been accused of planning to carry out bombings in Bahrain, his relatives are not aware of any charges brought against him. They have contacted various authorities in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to seek clarification of his legal status but to no avail.

Jordanian national Muzhir Mustafa Abdul Rahim Shkour, 44, was arrested in August 2007 on the border between Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He was held in incommunicado detention for four months before he was allowed a telephone call to his family and was subsequently allowed visits. He continues to be held without charge or trial, like many others in al-Dammam Central Prison.

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