Riyadh defends ‘counter-terror’ executions
CAIRO: Saudi Arabia is defending its decision to execute 14 minority Shia whose verdicts sparked criticism – in the US and Europe declaring – in a rare public statement that their trials were conducted fairly.
The men were arrested for their involvement in demonstrations in 2011 and 2012 during the Arab Spring revolts and were later sentenced to death in a secretive counter-terrorism court, according to human rights activists and the men’s relatives, who also say that some of the men were tortured and forced into making false confessions.
The group included a teenager arrested at the airport before boarding a flight to visit a university in Michigan, and a youth who is half-deaf and nearly blind, activists said.
Shia in the Sunni-majority kingdom have long complained of discrimination and harassment by authorities. Last month, the kingdom’s highest court upheld the death sentences, clearing the way for the executions to take place any day now.
A spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Justice, Mansour al-Ghafari, said on Friday that the trials met international standards for fairness and due process and that the “defendants enjoy full legal rights”. All had access to lawyers and court hearings were in the presence of media and human rights observers.
In a response on Saturday, a prominent human rights group said the Saudi government’s statement made several false claims and was “at odds with assessments by the UN and rights groups”.
“Saudi Arabia’s attempts to justify these 14 unlawful executions are appalling,” said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, an advocacy group based in Britain. “This statement is a serious mischaracterisation of the trial process against the 14 men.”
At least one defendant was never permitted to see a lawyer, and in another defendant’s case, no evidence against him was presented at trial, said Reprieve.
Officials with the UN last year said the secretive counter-terrorism court “raises serious concerns about its lack of independence and due procedure”. Its judges, they said, often refused to act on claims by defendants that “they had been subjected to torture”.