Riyadh: secret court for dissidents and activists, with torture and death penalty

The complaint contained in an Amnesty International investigation launched in 2011. Cases of 95 people analysed revealing violence and even the use of the death penalty. A "systematic" use to silence dissent.  Shiite minority among targets.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Saudi Arabia uses a special secret court, set up for terrorism cases, to systematically persecute pro human rights activists and other critical voices of the Wahhabi monarchy. This is what emerges from an investigation published in recent days by Amnesty International, which lasted for five years and analyzed the cases of 95 people subjected to the judgment of the special criminal court (SCC) of Riyadh.

The investigation showed that the court was used "systematically" as a weapon to silence criticism. A very harsh accusation, which clashes with the "reformist" and "modern" image that the country has tried to show to the outside world in recent years, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS).

Since 2011, the special court in Riyadh has been using anti-terrorism laws (broad spectrum and with large margins of application) and anti-crime rules to perpetrate unjust trials and impose convictions without any legal and factual basis. Penalties can go up to 30 years in prison; in some cases, judges issued death penalty sentences for human rights defenders, writers, economists, journalists, critical voices, religious leaders and reformists. The Shiite minority, in what is considered the world power of Sunni Islam, has ended up targeted.

"Every provision of the Criminal Court SCC - underlines Heba Morayef, regional director AI for the Middle East and North Africa - is stained by human rights abuses, from denial to access to the lawyer, up to arrest without charge, until to confessions extracted through torture ”.

audi Arabia is governed by an absolute Sunni monarchy, based on a Wahhabi fundamentalist view of Islam.

Over the past two years, the Crown Prince’s social reforms included granting women the right to drive cars and to attend sporting events in designated areas of stadiums.

However, the authorities have also cracked down on senior officials, business people, activists and critical voices, most notably in the Jamal Khashoggi affair, raising questions about the real extent of change.

The SCC special court was born in 2008 for cases of affiliation to international terrorism, in particular to the al-Qaeda network. However, according to what emerged from court documents, government declarations, as well as testimonies from activists and lawyers, the court has become a "parody of justice" useful only to strike at freedom of thought and peaceful political activity. One of the hardest notes is the use of torture to extract confessions; at least 20 people have been sentenced to death and, of these, 17 have already been executed. "The presumption of innocence - concludes the lawyer Taha al-Hajji, defender of several defendants to the SCC - is not part of the judicial system of Saudi Arabia".