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Arbitrary Detention

International human rights instruments, in particular article 9 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protect the right to personal liberty, meaning that no one shall be arbitrarily detained.

Detention, which, in itself, is not a violation of human rights and can be legitimate, becomes arbitrary when the deprivation of liberty is carried out in violation of fundamental rights and guarantees set forth in relevant international human rights instruments. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has defined several categories under which detention is arbitrary:

  • When it is impossible to invoke any  legal  basis for the deprivation of liberty (as when a person is kept in detention after the completion of his sentence or despite an amnesty law applicable to him/her);
  • When the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by the UDHR and the ICCPR, such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association;
  • When international norms relating to the right to a fair trial have been totally or partially violated, for example if the person has been imprisoned without charge or denied access to a lawyer;
  • When the deprivation of liberty is based on discriminatory grounds such as, amongst others, on ethnic origin, religion, political or other opinion or gender.

In the Arab world, thousands of individuals are subjected to arbitrary detention. Victims are usually denied their fundamental rights from the onset of the detention: arrest without a warrant; incommunicado detention with the denial of access to family and lawyer; prolonged periods of custody, during which the person is tortured in order to extract confessions; and speedy trials before tribunals that lack independence or exceptional courts.

Arab governments often arrest and prosecute all dissenting voices, such as those of human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists and peaceful demonstrators in retaliation for peacefully making use of their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Simultaneously, thousands of ordinary citizens are also victims of arbitrary detention when they are denied their fair trial rights. 

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Between November 2012 and March 2014 five Syrian men, all members of the same extended family originally from Hama, disappeared after their arrests by pro-Assad security forces.

On 28 July 2016, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) of Riyadh sentenced Abdelkarim Al Hawaj to death after a flawed trial in which, confessions made under torture were admitted as sole evidence. On 24 November 2016, Alkarama raised his case with the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions (SUMEX), calling for her intervention with the Saudi authorities to demand the repeal of Abdelkarim’s death sentence.

Nader Snoussi Ali Al Omrani, a 44-year-old well respected religious scholar, was abducted on 6 October 2016 in Tripoli by several members of the RADA forces, which pledged allegiance to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). His family has not heard from him since; however, they fear he was killed while secretly detained following the release of a video in which a young man confesses to his execution.

On 6 December 2016, Muawiya Harba and Sultan Harba, two Syrians from the same family living in refugee camps in the border city of Arsal, east Lebanon, will have their next trial session before the Military Court in Beirut. They are facing terrorism charges based solely on information extracted under torture during their secret detention at the premises of the Ministry of Defence in Yarzeh, Baabda.

On 18 November 2016, Alkarama and Human Rights Guardians wrote to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances (WGEID) regarding the cases of two Syrian citizens from the village of Kafr al-Tun, who disappeared in the Governorate of Hama in western central Syria in 2012.

GENEVA (17 November 2016) – The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has renewed its call for Saudi Arabia to release nine human rights activists who were jailed after participating in activities relating to the promotion and protection of human rights.

The men should be freed immediately as their detention is in violation of international human rights standards, according to the expert panel which assesses cases independently in the light of international law.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has recently released its Opinion on the case of Adam Al Natour, a 21-year-old Polish and Jordanian student who was sentenced to four years of imprisonment by the State Security Court after a flawed trial during which confessions he was forced to sign under torture were used against him.

Ten years ago, on 1 November 2006, Jordan enacted the "Prevention of Terrorism Act", in response to the 2005 hotel bombings in Amman that left 60 people dead. In 2014, faced with threats stemming from the spillover of the Syrian war, the law was amended and broadened to include nonviolent acts, in an attempt to legitimise the government's crackdown on peaceful expression and assembly. Journalists, political opponents, freedom of expression advocates and human rights defenders have since been put to trial under the pretext of "terrorism".

On 12 October 2016, the Alkarama Foundation launched the #KingdomofArbitraryDetention campaign to address arbitrary detention and the prosecution of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.

On 21 October 2016, Alkarama sent to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) new information about Ali Aarrass, detained since 2008 and sentenced on the sole basis of confessions obtained under torture.