Saudi Arabia: UN experts recall the state’s obligation to prevent torture and indefinite detention
The UN human rights experts reminded the Saudi authorities of their obligations to “of their obligation to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there are reasonable grounds to believe that torture has been committed, and to exclude any evidence obtained through torture and coercion from judicial proceedings”.
They underscored that “prolonged incommunicado detention can facilitate the perpetration of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and can in itself constitute a form of such treatment”.
These statements were made in the context of press release by several UN experts calling for the release of young Abdullah al-Howaiti and for the squashing of the death penalty sentence he received for acts he allegedly committed as a child. The experts noted that the imposition of a death penalty sentence on minors amounts to arbitrary deprivation of life.
In its opinion, 72/2021 of November 2021, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Abdullah al-Howaiti’s detention was arbitrary.
Abdullah al-Howaiti was arrested in May 2017 when he was only 14 years old, accused of theft and murder, and convicted – although he provided an alibi – on a guilty plea extracted from him under torture and other ill-treatment. Although the Supreme Court overturned his original conviction in 2021, al-Howaiti was recently sentenced to death for the second time.
Alkarama has regularly documented cases of torture in Saudi prisons. However, to date, none of the allegations of torture has been investigated impartially or resulted in the punishment of the perpetrators.
In December last year, Alkarama submitted its report on Saudi Arabia to the Committee against Torture. The report expressed key concerns regarding the serious violations committed in the country since its 2016 periodic review.
This comes as the Committee against Torture, a treaty body responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Convention against Torture ratified by Saudi Arabia on 23 September 1993, drew up a list of issues to be addressed by the Kingdom as part of this agreement during the third periodic review.
The issue of prisoners of conscience
In its report, Alkarama called on the Committee to raise with Saudi Arabia the situation of human rights defenders sentenced to long prison terms. The Committee will convey these concerns to the Kingdom's representatives who are expected to provide a clarification on the authorities' intention to release prisoners arbitrarily detained for their peaceful criticism of the authorities or for defending human rights. Such prisoners include Saud Mukhtar al-Hashimi, Suleiman al-Rashudi, Khalid al-Rashid, Muhammad Abdullah al-Otaibi, Muhammad al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair.
Alkarama had reminded the Committee of the need to investigate the fate of these prominent figures, all of whom have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty and detained despite requests for their release by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Based on the complaints submitted by Alkarama, the Working Group has issued several opinions confirming the arbitrary nature of their detention.
The Committee also raised the case of Safar bin Abdul Rahman Al-Hawali, who is being arbitrarily detained for publishing a book critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's foreign policy choices, offering him a number of recommendations. Alkarama has also referred Al-Hawali's case to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities due to his health condition.
Systematic use of torture
In this context, the Committee will also seek to clarify the conditions of detention and the allegations concerning the systematic practice of torture in the premises of the General Intelligence Service of the Ministry of the Interior.
Alkarama had already drawn the Committee's attention to the systematic practice of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, noting that detainees face torture and ill-treatment in retaliation for their public criticism of the royal authorities or their participation in peaceful demonstrations.
Among the most important cases demonstrating these practices, the Committee mentioned in its list of issues the case of Dr Salman al-Awda, who has been subjected to severe physical and psychological torture since his arrest.
Saudi Arabia will also be asked to provide clarification regarding national law, namely whether the "crime of torture and the various forms of participation in it" would be incorporated "into national legislation, in accordance with the definition given in Article 1 of the Convention, with appropriate penalties that take into account the gravity of the crime.