Saudi Slaughter of Shiites and Other Innocents: THE INSIDE STORY
Saudi Arabia is carrying out a second oppressive mass slaughter in the era of King Salman, including children, protestors, and activists
Without the knowledge of the victims’ families, the Saudi government today circulated awful news of the execution of 37 people, including minors, protestors, and the disabled. Many of them were linked to the Arab Spring protests that took place in Saudi Arabia, particular in the governorate of Qatif beginning on 17 February 2011. Others were charged by Saudi Arabia with spying for Iran, although most of the charges did not include evidence of actual acts of espionage.
Among the names were at least six minors: Abdullah Salman Al Sarih and Abdulkarim Mohammad al-Hawaj, whose charges go back to when they were 16 years of age, and Said Mohammad al-Sakafi, Salman Amin Al Quraysh, Mujtaba Nadir al-Sweiket, and Abdulaziz Hassan Al Sahwi, whose charges date back to when they were 17. There are also suspicions that others are likely minors, but the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) was unable to obtain further details.
Many of the charges leveled against the individuals whose executions were announced by the Ministry of Interior were not classified as serious or terroristic crimes. For example, there were charges related to the right to expression, peaceful protest, peaceful association, signing political statements, possessing political documents and information on political detainees. Similarly, some of them have been accused of spreading Shi’ism and practicing non-traditional religious activities involving Shiites in the governorate of Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia.
The trials of most of the victims of today’s massacre, the details and proceedings of which the ESOHR has followed, have severely lacked the conditions for a fair trial. The trials have taken place in total secrecy and isolation from any of the victim’s relatives or in semi-secrecy, attended by only a few of the victim’s relatives – one to three at most. On the government’s part, select official media entities can attend, as well as members of executive agencies, such as the Mabahith (secret police), and members of the official human rights establishment. Meanwhile, no one from the public or members of civil society can be found at the trial.
Likewise, diplomatic bodies from the EU, European countries, Canada, and the US are sometimes present at some of the sessions; however, throughout these years, few of them have made public comments. Saudi Arabia has used their presence on more than one occasion to legitimize trials without them issuing direct comments on Saudi Arabia’s use of their attendance. The ESOHR has circulated a statement calling on them to comment on the government citing their attendance at the trials, the goal of which, the ESOHR believes, is to grant legitimacy to unjust killing. The ESOHR has monitored the government’s citing of their attendance, in the context of news of a trial resulting in the execution of 14 people today: Ahmed Hassan Al Rabiah, Ahmed Faisal Al Darwish, Hussein Hassan Al Rabiah, Hussein Mohammad Al Musallim, minor Said Mohammad al-Sakafi, minor Salman Amin Al Quraysh, minor Abdulaziz Hassan Al Sahwi, minor Abdullah Salman Al Sarih, Abdullah Hani Al Tarif, Fadil Hassan Lubad, minor Mujtama Nadir al-Sweiket, Mohammad Mansour Al Nasr, Mustafa Ahmed Darwish, and the disabled Munir Abdullah Al Adam.
In addition, none of the victims whose cases the ESOHR was following were permitted to hire a lawyer during their arrest and investigation. They could only do so after the first session of the trial had been held, and even then, the victims were not able to properly benefit from the lawyer because of the complications and difficulties that Saudi Arabia placed between the lawyer and the victim, such as at times not allowing them to meet. Also, the defense and arguments presented by the lawyer at the trial were clearly ignored, including complaints of torture suffered by the detainees, which served to seriously marginalize the presence of the lawyer. The judges of the court also rely on victims’ testimony approved by the “ratification” judge before the trial begins. According to the ESOHR’s documentation, at least 21 people executed by Saudi Arabia today said in court that their statements were extracted under duress and torture, but the judges did not carry out their duties to protect victims, thus confirming that torture in Saudi Arabia and the impunity of those responsible for it are systematic.
It is difficult for the victim to refuse to certify the statements that are often written by the investigators themselves, who force the victims to sign them before sending them to the judge for ratification. For example, Mujtaba al-Sweiket informed the ratification judge that his statements were incorrect, but the judge, instead of performing his duties to protect the victim, made him choose between either certifying the statements or returning to the investigator. This raised Mujtaba’s fears that he would be subjected to torture again, and, thus, he chose to certify his statements.
In a report issued in February 2019 following a field visit to Saudi Arabia, the former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emerson, called for “a prompt review of all current cases of prisoners charged and convicted of terrorist offenses who are facing the death penalty, in order to ensure that minimum international standards are met in each case.” He stressed that this means that the death penalty may not be imposed except for the most serious crimes leading to loss of life and may not be imposed on people who were minors at the time of their crimes or people with mental or cognitive disabilities. Ben Emerson’s report included a clear reference to those who were executed today, stating that when 24 people were brought to trial in June of 2016 because of pro-democracy protests in 2011, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced 14 of them to death. This again confirms that the trials did not fulfill the required legal processes and the standards of a fair trial and that the accused were subjected to torture and were not able to have a lawyer. This case is a source of serious concern.
The rapporteur also expressed particular concern vis-à-vis “a pattern of systematic oppression in the Eastern Province where most of the Shiite population lives,” noting that death sentences were issued against many members of the Shiite minority – who were facing imminent execution – for their participation in pro-democracy demonstrations in Eastern Province in 2011 and 2012.
The brutal executions carried out by Saudi Arabia today blatantly ignored the many urgent appeals of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteurs, and various committees. These appeals included many of the names of people who were killed by Saudi Arabia today:
- On 31 August 2016, a group of Special Rapporteurs at the UN addressed Saudi Arabia regarding the cases of Munir Adam and Mujtaba al-Sweiket.
- On 25 October 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged Saudi Arabia to “immediately stop executing persons who were below 18 years of age at the time of their alleged crimes… Salman bin Salman al-Quraysh, Mujtaba bin Nadir bin Abdullah al-Sweiket, and Abdulkarim al-Hawaj.”
- On 28 July 2017, UN committees and Special Rapporteurs addressed Saudi Arabia regarding several cases, some of whom were executed today: Abbas Hajji al-Hassan, Abdulaziz Hassan Al Sahwi, Abdullah Hani Al Tarif, Hussein Ali al-Humaidy, Hussein Qassim al-Abboud, Jabbar Zuhair al-Harhoun, Mujtaba Nadir al-Sweiket, Munir Abdullah Al Adam, Mustafa Ahmed Darwish, Salman Amin Al Quraysh, and Said Mohammad al-Sakafi.
- On 8 February 2018, Special Rapporteurs addressed Saudi Arabia regarding the case of Abbas Hajji al-Hassan.
- On 15 March 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a group of rapporteurs and committees urged Saudi Arabia to stay the execution of those charged with spying for Iran. Today, 11 of those individuals were executed: Hussein Ali al-Humaidy, Hussein Qassim al-Abboud, Salim Abdullah al-Harbi, Talib Musallim al-Harbi, Tahir Musallim al-Harbi, Abbas Hajji al-Hussein, Ali Hussein al-‘Ashur, Ali Hussein al-Mihna, Mohammad Hussein al-‘Ashur, Sheikh Mohammad Abdulghani Attiyah, and Yusuf Abdullah al-Omri.
- On 11 October 2018, a group of Special Rapporteurs addressed Saudi Arabia regarding the cases of minors Abdulkarim al-Hawaj, Mujtaba al-Sweiket, and Salman Al Quraysh.
- On 24 October 2018, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities issued its opinion regarding disabled demonstrator Munir Adam, in which it recommended “serious consideration to removing the death penalty,” requested that Saudi Arabia provide, within six months, “a written response including information about any action taken in light of this opinion and recommendation submitted by the committee.” After five month and 30 days, Saudi Arabia responded by cutting off Munir’s head.
- On 29 October 2018, a group of UN Special Rapporteurs issued a statement calling upon Saudi Arabia to halt the death penalty against minors; however Saudi Arabia executed these minors today: Mujtaba al-Sweiket, Salman Al Quraysh, and Abdulkarim al-Hawaj.
The ESOHR had already called attention to certain cases in which the victim was subjected to torture and was compelled to certify their statements extracted under torture and used to sentence them to death:
Minor Mujtaba al-Sweiket: The ratification judge was informed that his statement was incorrect, but the judge made him choose between certifying the statement or returning to the investigator, without dealing legally with the torture to which he had been subjected by holding the torturers accountable. This raised Mujtaba’s fears of further torture, so he chose to certify the confession upon which his death sentence was based following a flawed trial.
Al-Sweiket was placed in solitary confinement for almost three months, during which time he was not allowed to see his family. He was deprived of a lawyer for nearly two years and nine months. During his solitary confinement, his interrogation, and deprivation of many of his rights, he was tortured and ill-treated to force him to make a confession, such as hanging from his hands, beating him with wires and hoses, extinguishing cigarettes on different parts of his body, beating him and slapping him with shoes on his head and face, and leaving him in a cold solitary cell in the winter, stripped of most of his clothes and bleeding from various parts of his body.
Minor Abdulkarim al-Hawaj: He was placed in solitary confinement for five months, during which time he was forbidden to communicate with the outside world or his family. He was subjected to interrogation and torture to force him to confess to several charges. He was beaten with sticks and electric wires, kicked with heavy shoes, electrocuted, and had his hands tied above him for more than 12 hours, during which he was prevented from entering the bathroom. In addition to physical torture, he was subjected to psychological torture through verbal insults, threats to kill his parents, and threats to remove his fingernails.
Minor Salman Quraysh: He was placed in solitary confinement for three months. In addition, he was subjected to cruel treatment, torture and severe beatings to force confessions. As a result, he was admitted to the Mabahith prison hospital four times, and on one occasion he spent a whole month in the hospital to treat the effects of torture. Among the types of torture used were beating with thick plastic, metal, or rubber hoses; electric shocks with high force on his body; and forcing him to take hallucinogenic pills that made him abnormal. The judge was asked to summon the investigator for a court hearing and to write to investigators at the Mabahith General Prison in Dammam to bring video footage of the investigation, but none of that was responded to.
Yusuf Abdullah al-Omri: His wife, in the defense she offered, recorded in the “judgment document,” said: “Regarding the confessions in his statement, they were pressured by the interrogator, who forced him to sign his statements after being verbally insulted and slapped. Because of these pressures from the interrogator, he suffered a severe psychological state and attempted suicide.” She asked the judge to ask the Mabahith to bring a videotape of the interrogations where cameras were present, but he ignored her request.
Abbas al-Hassan: A merchant in Jeddah who was arrested in connection with spying for Iran, he was subjected to physical and psychological torture. During interrogation, his hand and legs were tied, he was blindfolded, he was struck on sensitive areas of his body, and he was left shackled for a long time and prevented from sleeping.
There were 14 interrogators with him, pressuring him to make specific statements. The torture led to maladies such as high blood pressure, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and vitamin deficiencies. They threatened to arrest his family if he did not sign incriminating confessions. After more than two months in solitary confinement, his family was allowed to visit him, and they observed the effects of torture on him. More than two years later, he was transported to the Mabahith prison in Jeddah.
Hussein al-Humaidy: He worked as a senior director of accounting at Etisalat. He confirmed to the judge (and this is recorded in the judgement document, a copy of which is in the ESOHR’s possession) that the interrogations were carried out under severe psychological and physical pressure, but the judge did not care and issued the death sentence.
Hussein al-Abboud: He told the judge that his certified statement was altogether incorrect and that he was forced into it. He noted that he had previously been brought before the ratification judge, after having been threatened with torture if he changed his statement. On the other hand, the interrogator haggled with al-Abboud about his basic rights, to compel him to certify. When al-Abboud looked over the judgment document, the interrogator said to him: “If you certify the statement, we will allow you to contact your family. If you cry during the call, we will prevent you from calling again.” Al-Abboud was charged with passing information to several Iranians about the demonstrations in the Eastern Province, detainees, and the suffering of Shiites as a result of government restriction; meeting with the Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution, Ali Khamenei; and participating in several demonstrations in Ahsa and Qatif.
Sheikh Mohammad Attiya: He said to the judge in court: “I deny all the evidence against me. The investigator brought me written papers and ordered me to copy them into the certification notebook. I objected and stated my observations about them, that there were redactions and additions and deletions, and I refused. He rebuffed me by waving his foot in my face and said write it or else. So, I wrote it, and he told me that it would be certified by the attending judge. I objected, and he told me that certifying the confession would benefit me. He said a lot, wishing that I would certify. I went before the judge who was present and certified the statement. In another certification, I informed the judge that I had certified my statement at a previous time without full satisfaction, and I wanted to retract it. The judge said not now, you can mention that during trial.”
The examples noted here represent a sample of the evidence about the nature of detention, torture, and charges, and the complete lack of a fair system in Saudi Arabia.
With the executions today, the number of victims of execution since 2019 to today totals 105, while at this point in 2018 there were 48 executions. The rate has more than doubled by 50% compared to last year.
As stipulated in Saudi Arabia, executions are carried out only after the signature of the king or his deputy, which makes King Salman directly and explicitly responsible for the executions carried out today.
The ESOHR does not have information about some of the names mentioned as executed today. This goes back to the Saudi government’s closure of all spaces for civil society and the intimidation surrounding the families of the victims. The ESOHR also emphasizes the lack of confidence in the accounts offered by the state under the justification of “terrorism.”
The ESOHR believes that Saudi Arabia has entered into a bloody era since the ascension of King Salman and his Crown Prince and their absolute control over the country, both internally and externally. The first and most heinous manifestation of this internal control was the mass execution of 2 January 2016. This was followed by numerous crimes, culminating in today’s crime of executing 37 citizens – among them minors, the disabled, and demonstrators – on charges that fall within freedom and opinion and expression and are not classified as criminal.
After this heinous crime, the ESOHR calls for an international investigation to be opened in order to hold accountable all those responsible for the crimes and violations that have occurred. The ESOHR believes that this is the response that may bring this bloodshed to an end. The ESOHR also calls for a review of Saudi Arabia’s membership in various UN agencies and committees.
The ESOHR is raising profound concerns about dozens of people threatened with becoming victims of other executions in the future and advocates all legal means to save their lives.