Riyadh de­fends ‘counter-ter­ror’ ex­e­cu­tions

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

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”.

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