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Hunger-striker Mohammed al-Bajady jailed for four years after secret trial

‘After more than a year in detention without being able to see his lawyer, he has been denied any form of justice’ - Philip Luther

The sentencing of a prominent Saudi Arabian human rights activist to four years in jail followed by a five-year travel ban demonstrates a blatant disregard for his fundamental rights, Amnesty International has said.

Amnesty has recently received credible information that on 10 April the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh handed down the sentence against Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady - believed to be currently in the sixth week of a hunger strike - in a secret session. Amnesty understands that the court found him guilty of participating in the establishment of a human rights organisation, harming the image of the state through the media, calling on the families of political detainees to protest and hold sit-ins, contesting the independence of the judiciary and having banned books in his possession.

Amnesty considers Al-Bajady to be a prisoner of conscience held solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and is calling for him to be released immediately and unconditionally, as well as for all charges that he is convicted of to be quashed.

According to the information received by Amnesty, Al-Bajady refused to recognise the legitimacy of the court or the trial proceedings because his legal representatives were not allowed to attend. Throughout his detention his legal defence team have been refused access to him and have been told that their right to represent him is not recognised by the court. They were refused entry to the hearings despite standing outside the court for hours.

The trial hearing in which he was sentenced was reportedly attended by soldiers in military uniforms, as well as a representative of the governmental National Human Rights Commission. However, neither Al-Bajady’s family nor his legal representatives were made aware of the sentencing hearing.

A co-founder of the unregistered NGO the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), Al-Bajady has been held since his 21 March 2011 arrest, a day after he attended a protest in Riyadh by families of detainees arbitrarily held. ACPRA has campaigned, among other things, on behalf of detainees held without charge or trial.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:

“Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady appears to have been convicted on charges that amount to the criminalisation of his rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

“After more than a year in detention without being able to see his lawyer, he has been denied any form of justice in a process which flagrantly breaches his rights.”

Mohammed al-Bajady has been on trial since August before the Specialised Criminal Court, which was set up to try Security with human rights-related offences. Amnesty had previously received reports that he had been on hunger strike since 11 March in protest at his detention and had been refusing to take water since 7 April, giving rise to fears for his health.

An Interior Ministry spokesman told news agencies on 10 April that Al-Bajady was not on hunger strike and that he was in good health. His legal defence team have asked to be allowed to visit him to check for themselves, but are not believed to have been granted access.

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