NEW DEBATE MUST TACKLE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Since March a flawed justice system has continued to lead to human rights abuse. Executions have risen by 12 to a total of 25. Amputations have increased by four to a total of nine.

Defects in the justice system include a lack of safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention, the absence of the right to prompt access to a lawyer and family upon detention, summary and secret trial proceedings, use of confessions extracted under duress as sole evidence for conviction, denial of defence by lawyers, and the absence of meaningful appeal.

These defects are exacerbated by the lack of independence of the judiciary, who are in practice subordinate to the executive authority, in particular the Ministers of Justice and Interior, and regional governors. Those caught in the web of a system shrouded in secrecy are denied the most basic rights. For example:

· Dr Sa'id bin Zu'air, head of the Department of Information at Imam Mohammad ibn Sa'ud University. Detained since 1995. No access to lawyer. No formal charges or trial proceedings known. He is reportedly held in al-Hair prison.

· Hani Al-Sayegh, a Saudi Arabian national. Forcibly returned to the country from USA on 10 October 1999. Detained immediately on arrival in connection with the bombing of a US military complex at al-Khobar in 1996, a capital offence. Continues to be held without access to lawyers. His current legal status remains unknown.

Amnesty International Secretary General Pierre Sané said:

'Saudi Arabian officials have recently made a number of important human rights statements before the international community which contribute to a new and constructive debate on human rights issues in the Kingdom. We want to see promising statements translated into early action to combat the entrenched abuse that have caused misery in Saudi Arabia.'

Detainees are routinely kept in the dark about their cases and if presented to court face a secret, summary trial even if they may face execution. Arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention are facilitated by vaguely-worded criminal laws.

In criminal cases detention is often extended virtually indefinitely in order to allow police time to extract 'confessions'. 'Confessions' are often extracted under duress and are sometimes the only evidence presented to a court. In theory, judges do not accept a confession if disputed by the accused on grounds of torture, coercion or deception – but in practice such confessions are routinely admitted into evidence, violating Saudi Arabia's obligations under the UN Convention against Torture.

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