Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Reprieve) – Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince has used his first major interview since taking office to defend the country’s recent mass execution, claiming that human rights are ‘important’ to his government.
Speaking to the Economist, Mohammed bin Salman – the son of King Salman, and the country’s Defence Minister – sought to justify the execution on Saturday of 47 prisoners, saying they were “sentenced in a court of law.” Those killed included Sheikh Nimr, a prominent critic of the government, and three young political protestors – all four of whom were sentenced to death, on charges that included shouting slogans and organizing protests.
Prince Mohammed also claimed, incorrectly, that those executed had had fair trials, saying they “had the right to hire an attorney and they had attorneys present throughout each layer of the proceedings.” He went on to say that “the court doors were also open for any media people and journalists, and all the proceedings and the judicial texts were made public.”
In fact, the protestors’ trials in the secretive Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) took place in largely closed hearings. Lawyers barred from attending hearings and from meeting their clients to take proper instructions, while police investigations were kept secret. The court also relied heavily on ‘confessions’ extracted under torture, in breach of international and Saudi law. Human rights organization Reprieve – which is assisting three juveniles who were sentenced to death in the SCC after attending protests – has repeatedly raised concerns about these trial conditions.
Prince Mohammed also said that Saudi Arabia would “always take criticism from our friends. If we are wrong, we need to hear that we are wrong.” He added that: “We have our values […] It is important to us to have our freedom of expression; it is important to us to have human rights.” He also claimed that “any regime that did not represent its people collapsed in the Arab Spring”– the period that saw widespread protests, and arrests of protestors, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.
Research by Reprieve in 2015 found that, of those facing execution in Saudi Arabia, the vast majority – 72 per cent – were convicted of non-lethal offenses such as political protest or drug-related crimes, while torture and forced ‘confessions’ were frequently reported. Reprieve has also established that the Saudi authorities executed at least 158 people in 2015 – a marked increase on the previous year.
Among those currently facing execution in Saudi Arabia are the three juveniles – Ali al-Nimr, Dawoud al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher – all of whom were sentenced to death in the SCC for attending protests, after being tortured into signing statements.
Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:
“Mohammed bin Salman says he wants to hear when the Saudi government is wrong. Well, it’s safe to say that he is dead wrong on this occasion. Contrary to his claims, we know that Sheikh Nimr and three protestors killed on Saturday – as well as the three juveniles now awaiting execution – had catastrophically unfair trials, where the authorities relied on torture and forced ‘confessions’. The defence lawyers were excluded from attending hearings, or even meeting their clients. If the Saudi government wants to endear itself to the international community, it could start by halting its plans to execute juveniles and others who dare to express dissent.”
This report was prepared by Reprieve.