Saudi Arabia: Prisoner of conscience latest to be convicted in ‘counter-terror purge’ of human rights NGO
The Saudi Arabian authorities today continued their cynical use of a repressive and overly vague counter-terrorism law to purge the Kingdom’s small and embattled civil society by convicting the human rights defender Abdulkareem al-Khoder and imprisoning him for 10 years, Amnesty International said.
Abdulkareem al-Khoder, a co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), was jailed in June 2013 for eight years after a trial before a criminal court. His sentence was overturned last year but he remained arbitrarily detained in prison. His latest conviction was handed down by Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) under a counter-terrorism law that took effect in February 2014.
“By using abusive counter-terrorism legislation and a deeply deficient specialized court to intimidate and lock up human rights defenders, Saudi Arabia is sending a chilling message that anyone who speaks out will be purged,” said James Lynch, Acting Deputy Program Director at Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
Abdulkareem al-Khoder, who is also a former professor in the Faculty of Islamic Jurisprudence at al-Qassim University, is one of 11 founding members of ACPRA who are either already behind bars or still on trial for calling for political and human rights reforms.
He was arrested in April 2013 after a government crackdown against ACPRA in March 2013 when its two founding members, Dr Abdullah al-Hamid and Dr Mohammad al-Qahtani, were jailed and the authorities ordered that the organization be disbanded. Dr Abdulkareem al-Khoder was accused of a list of offences including “disobeying the ruler”, “inciting disorder by calling for demonstrations”, “harming the image of the state by disseminating false information to foreign groups” and “taking part in founding an unlicensed organization”, a reference to ACPRA.
Another ACPRA member, Dr Abdulrahman al-Hamid, was sentenced by the SCC last Wednesday to nine years in prison. His brother Abdullah al-Hamid has been serving a 10-year sentence since 2013. A third brother, Issa al-Hamid, was due to be sentenced last week but the court session was postponed to November.
The SCC also recently re-opened its case against ACPRA’s youngest member, Omar al-Sa’id, who was previously sentenced in 2013 to four years imprisonment and 200 lashes for his activism.
Among the other ACPRA members already behind bars are an 80-year-old former judge, Sheikh Suliaman al-Rashudi, who was detained and started serving a 15-year prison term in December 2012, two days after he gave a talk on the legality of peaceful protests in Shari’a law.
“The outrageous convictions of ACPRA members for their human rights activism, coming on top of Saudi Arabia’s already appalling human rights record makes a further mockery of its obligations as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to uphold the highest standards of human rights,” said James Lynch.
“Along with the recent death sentences of three juvenile activists and the imposition of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments such as the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi, this is yet another grim affirmation of the Kingdom’s desire to crush dissent of whatever form.”
Seven Shi’a activists are currently on death row in Saudi Arabia, including Ali al-Nimr, a juvenile at the time of his crimes, as well as his uncle, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher were also juveniles at the time of their alleged crimes.
Imposing death sentences on juveniles violates international law. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances without exception as it violates the right to life, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
At least 137 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia so far in 2015. Last year’s total was 90.
Amnesty International is calling on Saudi Arabia to halt all executions and release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.
ACPRA is an independent human rights NGO that was set up in October 2009. It has reported on human rights violations and helped many families of detainees held without charge to bring cases against the Ministry of Interior before the Board of Grievances, an administrative court with jurisdiction to consider complaints against the state and its public services.
Prior to its suppression, ACPRA acted as a thorn in the side of the Saudi Arabian government. ACPRA members spoke out repeatedly against the detention practices of the Saudi Arabian authorities and were especially critical of the Ministry of Interior and its feared security and intelligence branch, the General Directorate of Investigations (GDI) or al-Mabahith, whose officers wield extensive powers and are able to arrest, detain, torture and abuse those they suspect with impunity.
GDI officers use these powers not only against terrorism suspects, but against virtually anyone who speaks out against the authorities, including peaceful critics such as those associated with ACPRA or other human rights defenders and organizations. All such independent organizations have been forcibly shut down and their founders imprisoned or forced into silence by the authorities. A recently implemented counter-terror law and decrees have extended legal cover for these human rights violations and abuses of power, meaning that even peaceful criticism is all too readily branded as terrorism against the state.
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