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Saudi Arabia: 'Dire' human rights situation made 'even worse' by counter-terrorism drive

* New report condemns detention without trial of thousands in Kingdom
* UK resident Shaker Aamer faces Saudi detention without charge or trial if transferred from Guantánamo

Amnesty International has condemned Saudi Arabia for detaining thousands of people in post-2001 “counter-terrorism” round-ups, holding many of these for years without charge or trial.

In a new report published today (22 July), Amnesty says that many of these detainees have suffered torture, some have “disappeared” into Saudi Arabia’s notoriously secret justice system for months or years, and some have been sentenced to long prison terms or even death sentences after unfair, summary trials.

Read the report: 'Assaulting human rights in the name of counter-terrorism' (PDF)

The majority of detainees are suspected supporters of Islamist groups that have carried out attacks on Westerners and others, as well as prisoners of conscience targeted for their peaceful opposition to Saudi government policies. Two years ago the Saudi Interior Minister said that since 2001 the country had detained 9,000 security suspects and that 3,106 were still being held. However, no information over names or criminal charges was forthcoming and unofficial sources have put the true numbers far higher. In the last two years, meanwhile, new waves of arrests have been reported.

Amnesty’s 69-page report, Saudi Arabia: assaulting human rights in the name of counter-terrorism, also says the Saudi authorities have tried to deflect attention from its “shocking” record with a state-controlled media focus on a high-profile case against a particular group of 991 detainees and an official “re-education” programme for those accused of involvement in terrorism. Yet these subjects are also shrouded in secrecy, with doubts that even basic human rights standards are being met.

Former Guantánamo detainees are among those now being held in Saudi Arabia and Amnesty is warning that the UK resident Shaker Aamer - currently detained at the US detention centre in Cuba - could also be held without charge or trial if transferred to his native Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Saudi Arabia’s already dire human rights record has been made even worse by fresh abuses in the name of countering terrorism. Since 2001, thousands of people have become the victim of a secret justice system almost entirely devoid of basic human rights protections.

“Except for its ‘re-education’ programme and carefully coordinated mass trials, Saudi Arabia’s habitual cloak of secrecy is wrapped even more tightly than ever in ‘security’ cases. We’re calling for a fundamental change of policy by the Saudi authorities.

“It’s true that Saudi Arabia faces a challenge in dealing with terrorism, but its response has been shocking - something the international community has been far too muted about.

“All countries need to step up their game when confronting the Saudi authorities with these abuses and in particular the UK government should insist that the UK resident Shaker Aamer being held at Guantánamo Bay is released to Britain and not sent to his native Saudi Arabia to face possible detention without charge or trial.”

In one shocking and ominous case from 2005, local people in al-Jouf in northern Saudi Arabia awoke one morning to see on public display the dead bodies of three men who had been executed and put on crucifixes. The three were from a group who the Saudi authorities say had been arrested in 2003, accused of political killings in the town. The men were said to have been convicted of “corruption on earth” and were reportedly the first since 2001 to have been executed for politically-motivated crimes.

Amnesty fears that other such executions are set to follow, not least as the Kingdom already has one of the world’s highest rates of execution. It recently announced that one person faces execution following cases involving 330 people. However, very little information has emerged over these cases.

Despite the extreme secrecy surrounding almost all aspects of Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism policies, Amnesty’s report contains information about cases of numerous people held for many years without charge or trial. For example, Hamal al-Neyl Abu Kassawy, a 34-year-old Sudanese national, has been detained since June 2004 after being arrested by General Intelligence. Hamal is a “suitcase trader”, a small-scale buyer and seller of goods who travels from country to country with a bag of items for sale. Typically for a “security” case, Hamal was held for eight months before word even reached his family that he was in detention, and he is still imprisoned without charge or trial.

In another security case, two men are being held years after their original sentences expired. Majed Nasser al-Shummari and Mislat al-Mutayri, both in their twenties, were arrested during 2002-3, with Majed being sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and Mislat reportedly receiving two years and a flogging sentence. It is believed the sentences were handed down after a secret trial in Riyadh during which the men had no legal representation. Subsequently, the pair continue to be held in a General Intelligence prison even though no new charges have been brought.

Amnesty’s report also details cases where people have been subject to “rendition” to Saudi detention from other countries, including Qatar and Kuwait. In one case from 2002, a Saudi national was apprehended by a group of men in a hotel in Doha in Qatar, beaten, handcuffed and blindfolded, and then flown to Riyadh, apparently because he was suspected of involvement in terrorism. He is reportedly still held in solitary confinement in Riyadh. In a typical instance of Saudi judicial secrecy, though the man was at one stage presented before a panel of judges, it is unclear if this was actually trial and if so what was its outcome.


Read the report: 'Assaulting human rights in the name of counter-terrorism' (PDF)

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