Saudi Arabia: three Clerics face imminent unfair trial and possible execution

The ICJ today condemned the impending moves to subject three prominent Saudi clerics to an inevitably unfair trial on dubious charges that might result in sentences of death and arbitrary execution.

According to credible media reports citing Saudi government sources, Salman al-Odah, Ali Al-Omari and Awad al-Qarni, three prominent Saudi clerics, will almost certainly be convicted, sentenced to death and executed soon after Ramadan.

The media reports follow last April’s mass executions of 37 people, and the crucifixion of one them, following their conviction and sentencing to death for similar “terrorism” related charges.

The ICJ calls for the clerics’ release unless they can be charged with a recognizable criminal offence consistent with the rule of law, and tried before a competent, independent, and impartial court that ensures fair trial rights.

“Saudi Arabia is abusively resorting to terrorism related charges, unfair trials, and sentences of death followed by arbitrary execution to permanently silence perceived critical voices,” said Said Benarbia, the ICJ’s MENA Programme Director.

“Instead of perpetuating egregious violations of the right to life, Saudi authorities must administer justice fairly and in accordance with international law and standards,” he added.

One of the defendants, Salman al-Odah, was charged by prosecutors in September 2018 with 37 offences, including “belonging to a terrorist group: the Muslim Brotherhood,” “stirring public discord and inciting people against the ruler,” “calling for change in government,” “supporting Arab revolutions,” “possessing banned books” and “describing the Saudi government as a tyranny.”

The ICJ fears that Salman al-Odah may be subject to these charges simply for exercising his protected right to freedom of expression.

Together with the other two clerics, Salman al-Odah faces trial before the specialized criminal court, an exceptional court that fails to ensure respect of fair trial rights and that has been used to try those suspected of committing terrorism related offences, political activists, and human rights defenders.

The ICJ is concerned that since their arrest in September 2017, the clerics have allegedly been subject to incommunicado detention and prolonged solitary confinement for months. Such treatment amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, prohibited under international law.

Carrying out executions following proceedings that fail to scrupulously observe international fair trial standards always amounts to an arbitrary deprivation of life.

The ICJ opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances as a violation of the right to life and a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

The ICJ underscores that the United Nations General Assembly, by an overwhelming majority, has repeated called on States that retain the death penalty to impose an immediate moratorium on executions with a view to abolition.

The ICJ calls on the Saudi authorities to immediately move toward abolishing the death penalty and impose an immediate moratorium on executions.


The clerics’ detention and ongoing trial are part of a broader crackdown on activists and dissidents since September 2017, including through politicized judicial proceedings and trumped up charges under the 2014 Royal Decree.

The Decree criminalizes as terrorism offences acts that do not involve serious violence, including acts that aim to suspend the enforcement of the Constitution or some of its articles, as well as any acts that undermine the State’s prestige and standing.

Such broad definitions have effectively been used to criminalize the legitimate and peaceful exercise of human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

The 2014 Royal Decree also allows the Minister of Interior to order the arrest of any person suspected of committing terrorism related offences, and for those arrested to remain in pre-trial detention for up to six months and to be prohibited from communicating with their family members for up to three months. Those arrested cannot be released pending trial without the authorization of the Minister of Interior or someone authorized by him.

Such conditions contravene international standards on the rights to liberty and to a fair trial.

Saudi Arabia-Death penalty-News-2019-ARA (Arabic version, in PDF)



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