Prisoners of Conscience

Saudi violations of human rights… secret trials and the prevention of international observers

The Saudi authorities insist on holding secret trials for prisoners of conscience in their prisons, which makes the trials fall short of international standards for fair trial.

The authorities prevent the presence of the general public, who know that the request to attend in itself makes them vulnerable to imprisonment and torture, and also prohibit the presence of international observers, including embassy officials, despite the Saudi media’s claim that they can.

This was confirmed in response to a written question raised by Member of Parliament Crispin Blunt of the Conservative Party on March 19, 2020 specifically about the trial of women’s rights activists, and the response of a British government official on March 27 states: “The UK attends trials of international importance in all countries where allowed, and the UK, along with other embassies in Saudi Arabia, has submitted requests to attend trials and rejected the request in every trial we have been familiar with since October 2018, except for the trials of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.”

This response, according to which foreign embassies have been repeatedly prevented from attending trials in the Kingdom, is consistent with the information received by the Al-Qast Foundation for Human Rights, in addition to preventing international media and the general public from attending.

Since October 2018, several trial sessions have been held, including the trial of women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, and clerics, in secret procedures and without the supervision of any independent body, which contravenes Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “every human being is on an equal basis with others, the right to have his case heard by an independent and impartial court is fair and public.

It should be noted that the presence of international observers alone does not guarantee a fair trial, as the presence of embassy officials generally available before October 2018 did not discourage the Saudi authorities from holding unfair trials and imposing long prison sentences on peaceful activists, and even holding trials at the Specialized Criminal Court, and this does not deny that The right to public hearings is an integral part of the right to a fair trial.

“Preventing international observers from attending increases the level of confidentiality of judicial proceedings in Saudi Arabia, which suffers mainly from numerous violations of international fair trial guarantees, such as denial of legal representation, undue delay, and routine acceptance of confessions obtained through torture,” commented Yahya Asiri.

“Now that foreign governments have publicly recognized this ban, they must increase their pressure on the Saudi authorities to allow them to attend trials and they must call for an end to unfair judicial procedures and the arbitrary release of detainees,” he added.

Even in the only trial in which foreign diplomats were allowed to attend, that is, the trial of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it was very secret and most international observers were prevented from attending it.

The right to a public trial is a component of a fair trial enshrined in a number of international human rights bodies.

Al-Qast urged the international observers to continue submitting requests to attend the trials, and to put pressure on the Saudi authorities on this issue.

The human rights organization also called on the Saudi authorities to provide all basic legal guarantees and fair trial rights for individuals deprived of their liberty, and calls for pressure on the Saudi authorities to release an immediate and unconditional release of detainees of conscience detained for the peaceful exercise of their fundamental freedoms.

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