Amnesty spent five years investigating 95 cases heard at the Specialized Criminal court (SCC) in Riyadh, concluding in a report published on Thursday that human rights defenders, writers, economists, journalists, religious clerics, reformists and political activists, including Shia Muslim minority, have suffered grossly unfair trials before the SCC and received harsh sentences, including the death penalty, under vague counter-terror and anti-cybercrime laws.
“The Saudi Arabian government exploits the SCC to create a false aura of legality around its abuse of the counter-terror law to silence its critics,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa regional director.
“Every stage of the SCC’s judicial process is tainted with human rights abuses, from the denial of access to a lawyer, to incommunicado detention, to convictions based solely on so-called confessions extracted through torture,” she said.
The report titled “Muzzling critical voices: Politicized trials before Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court” comes despite the kingdom’s recent attempts to cultivate a reformist image.
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“Our research gives lie to the shiny new reformist image Saudi Arabia is trying to cultivate, exposing how the government uses a court like the SCC in the ruthless suppression of those who are courageous enough to voice opposition, defend human rights or call for meaningful reforms,” Morayef said.
One of the most disturbing findings shows that the SCC is heavily reliant on torture-tainted “confessions.” At least 20 Shia men have been sentenced to death on the basis of such “confessions,” 17 of whom have been executed, according to the London-based rights group.
Amnesty further called on Saudi authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, ensure their convictions and sentences are quashed, and declare an official moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”
Saudi Arabia has lately stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution and conviction of peaceful dissident writers and human rights campaigners.
Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.