HRW Blasts Saudi Arabia for Detaining 1000s Because of Pressure on Legal System

Published May 6th, 2018 - 01:11 GMT
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (AFP/ File Photo)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (AFP/ File Photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has blasted Saudi Arabia for detaining thousands of people for excessively long periods without trial, saying the kingdom's justice system is deteriorating.

The New York-based rights organization said on Sunday that the detentions raised doubts about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)'s modernization plan dubbed Vision 2030.

“If Saudi authorities can hold a detainee for months on end with no charges, it’s clear that the Saudi criminal justice system remains broken and unjust, and it only seems to be getting worse,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at the HRW.

“It seems that MBS’s ‘Vision2030’ plan better describes the length of detentions without charge than an aspirational time horizon for reforms.”

The rights group analyzed data from a public online Saudi Interior Ministry database, saying 3,380 people had been held for more than six months without a conviction or their “case file under judicial review,” including 2,949 for over a year and 770 for above three years.

One Saudi citizen has been held without a conviction since September 2003 and another “under investigation” since December 2006, the HRW added.

“We’ve reverted to a Saudi version of Kafka when authorities detain citizens for over a decade without charge because they are ‘under investigation’,” Whitson said.

“This effectively means that Saudi authorities can detain and jail anyone they want by claiming they are investigating them, however endless the investigation,” she added.

Whitson also urged Saudi Arabia’s attorney general to promptly charge or release all the defendants held arbitrarily.

She further challenged the crown prince's pledge to bring major social and economic changes to Saudi Arabia amid a recent dramatic increase in incarceration without trial.

“Mohammad bin Salman’s promises to modernize and strengthen the rule of law mean very little when the authorities can lock away thousands of people for years and throw away the key,” she said.

Under the Saudi law, a person may be detained without charge for a maximum of five days, renewable up to six months by a public prosecution order. After six months, the detainee should “be directly transferred to the competent court, or be released.”

Bin Salman was appointed the first in line to the Saudi throne by his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, last June. Since then, he has engaged in a string of radical economic and social projects in a bid to portray himself as “reformist." But those projects have been widely seen more about consolidating his personal power and less about bringing about real change to Saudi Arabia.

Hundreds of influential Saudi businessmen and members of the royal family were rounded up in November 2017 in an alleged “anti-corruption campaign” spearheaded by bin Salman.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

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