Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Saudi Human Rights Abuses in the Name of Fighting Terrorism

The Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia has been highlighting the rampant miscarriage of justice in Saudi Arabia for years. The Saudi judicial system is based on the Shariah law, which does not recognize civil law and can easily be interpreted by the Saudi sectarian court system as presiding religious judges see fit.

In the past few weeks, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have released extensive reports on Saudi human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism.

Saudi Arabia has held more than 9,000 people related to terrorism charges since 2003 and announced plans to try only a portion (less than 1000) of the detainees in October 2008. Since then, little information about the trials has been made available, including the names of prisoners to be tried and whether they will have access to a lawyer. Amnesty International reports that those who have gone to trial have been subject to “grossly unfair and secret proceedings.” The legal limit for imprisonment without trial in Saudi Arabia is six months.

Some prisoners have been tried and have completed their sentences, yet continue to be held indefinitely. Other prisoners are forced to undergo religious reeducation in place of trials.

Saudi Arabia lacks a penal code and instead relies on Shariah law. Without specified criminal offenses, the judiciary has wide powers to impose brutal sentences, including the death penalty, and follow various interpretations of the religious law.

This denial of human rights, by denying trials to thousands of prisoners, setting up unjust, underground trials for a few, and imposing religious counseling should be condemned. The Saudi royal family should recognize the necessity for immediate judicial reform and begin to resolve this abusive situation by releasing detainees held beyond the legal six months and providing fair, public trials with impartial sentences.

Read the report from Human Rights Watch: Human Rights and Saudi Arabia's Counterterrorism Response and an overview of the report.

Read Amnesty International's report: Saudi Arabia: Assaulting Human Rights in the Name of Counter-Terrorism and coverage from The New York Times.

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