Saudi Arabia: lengthy sentences for 16 reformers a worrying development

Lengthy prison sentences given to 16 men - including prominent advocates of reform who had tried to set up a human rights association in Saudi Arabia - are a worrying development

According to reports, prison sentences handed out by the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh on Tuesday ranged from five to 30 years.  The men were convicted of charges including forming a secret organisation, attempting to seize power, incitement against the King, financing terrorism, and money laundering.

Nine of the men - including activists, lawyers and academics - were detained in February 2007 after they met to discuss setting up a human rights association, and had circulated a petition calling for political reform. At the time the Interior Ministry said the men had been arrested for collecting money to support terrorism, which they have denied.

Seven other men were subsequently detained because of their alleged links with one of the advocates of reform, Dr Saud al-Hashimi. Many of the men have been held in prolonged solitary confinement, at times in incommunicado detention. At least two of them have alleged they were tortured in detention, one of them saying they were forced into a “confession” as a result. There are concerns that others have suffered similar treatment.

All 16 men were charged in August 2010, some three and a half years after the group of nine were detained.

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

“While some of these charges look very serious, the authorities have a track record of punishing people who simply advocate peaceful political change and respect for human rights, labelling them as security threats.

“Given that the trial proceedings in this case were grossly unfair and many of the accusations against the men related only to the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association, it is likely that at least some of those sentenced are prisoners of conscience.”

Lawyers and families were denied details of the charges against the men for months and were denied access to many of the court proceedings. In the last few months however some family members and some state media have been allowed to attend court sessions. Fourteen of the men face travel bans after the completion of their sentences, while a Yemeni and Syrian face deportation upon their release.

The men are to receive written verdicts in the next week or two, after which they will have 30 days to appeal. Until then, nine will remain on bail and six will continue to be detained.

One man, Abdullah al-Rifa’i, who was out on bail at the time, was said to have been detained yesterday for laughing in court. It is not clear where he is being detained.

Sentences

The nine arrested in February 2007

  • Dr Saud al-Hashimi - 30 years’ imprisonment, 30 years’ travel ban following release and a fine of two million riyals (approximately £343,000)
  • Abdul Aziz al-Khariji - 22 years’ imprisonment, 20 years’ travel ban following release and a fine of one million riyals (approximately £171,000)
  • Musa al-Qirni - 20 years’ imprisonment and 20 years’ travel ban following release
  • Dr Suliaman al-Rashudi - 15 years’ imprisonment and 15 years’ travel ban following release
  • Abdul Rahman Khan - 20 years’ imprisonment and 20 years’ travel ban following release
  • Essam Basrawi - 10 years’ imprisonment and 10 years’ travel ban following release
  • Saif al-Din al-Sharif - 10 years’ imprisonment and 10 years’ travel ban following release
  • Fahd al-Qurshi - 10 years’ imprisonment and 10 years’ travel ban following release
  • Abdul Rahman al-Shumayri - 10 years’ imprisonment and 10 years’ travel ban following release

The other seven

  • Waleed al-Amri - 25 years’ imprisonment and 25 years’ travel ban following release
  • Abdullah al-Rifa'i (Syrian national) - 15 years’ imprisonment and deportation to Syria following release
  • Ali al-Qirni - 10 years’ imprisonment and 10 years’ travel ban following release
  • Mutassem Mukhtar - 10 years’ imprisonment and 10 years’ travel ban following release
  • Ridat al-Majayshi - eight years’ imprisonment and eight years’ travel ban following release
  • Khaled al-'Abassi - eight years imprisonment and eight years’ travel ban following release
  • Saleh al-Rashidi (Yemeni national) - five years’ imprisonment and deportation to Yemen following release.

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