Saudi de­fense of planned ex­e­cu­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN sudarsan.raghavan@wash­ Sheikha Al­dosary in Riyadh con­trib­uted to this re­port.

cairo — Saudi Ara­bia is de­fend­ing its de­ci­sion to ex­e­cute 14 mi­nor­ity Shi­ites — whose sen­tences sparked crit­i­cism in the United States 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 coun­tert­er­ror­ism 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 who was ar­rested at the air­port while on his way to visit a univer­sity in Michi­gan, and a youth who is half-deaf and nearly blind, ac­tivists said.

Shi­ites 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.

A spokesman for the Saudi Min­istry of Jus­tice, Man­sour alGha­fari, said in a state­ment re­leased Fri­day that the tri­als met international stan­dards for fair­ness and due process and that the “de­fen­dants en­joy full le­gal rights.” All of them had ac­cess to lawyers, and all court hear­ings were in the pres­ence of the me­dia and hu­man rights ob­servers, Gha­fari said.

In a re­sponse Satur­day, a prom­i­nent hu­man rights group said the Saudi gov­ern­ment’s state­ment made sev­eral false claims and was “at odds with as­sess­ments by the U.N. 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 mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tion 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, the ad­vo­cacy group says.

Of­fi­cials with the United Na­tions last year said the se­cre­tive coun­tert­er­ror­ism 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.”

Gha­fari said the death sen­tences were handed down only “for the most dan­ger­ous crimes.” Saudi of­fi­cials in state me­dia have claimed that the 14 men were ar­rested on ter­ror­ism-re­lated charges. But ac­tivists say the Saudi gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to con­duct ex­e­cu­tions for al­leged non­vi­o­lent crimes.

Some of the 14 men were con­victed of us­ing cell­phones to or­ga­nize protests and of us­ing so­cial me­dia, ac­cord­ing to Re­prieve.

“Gov­ern­ments close to Saudi Ara­bia — in­clud­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the U.K. — must ur­gently call on the King­dom to halt these ex­e­cu­tions,” Foa said.

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