Saudi Arabia’s authorities today continued their relentless efforts to stamp out independent human rights activism by sentencing another key activist to eight years in prison, Amnesty International said today.
Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, is the only active founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), an independent human rights organization, who is not behind bars. He was tried at the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) and sentenced under a repressive counterterrorism law. He faced a number of different charges which included “communicating with foreign organizations” and providing information to Amnesty International for use in two of its reports. He also faces an eight-year travel ban, during which time he is forbidden from writing on social media.
“Abdulaziz al-Shubaily’s conviction is an attempt to put the final nail in ACPRA’s coffin. The organization has borne the brunt of the authorities’ relentless attacks on civil society over the past few years. After shutting ACPRA down three years ago, the authorities have prosecuted and jailed its founding members one by one in a merciless bid to suppress criticism of Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record,” said James Lynch, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“The authorities have once again proven that they are determined to conceal the truth about Saudi Arabia’s dire human rights record. The authorities must urgently ensure his conviction is quashed and they should not detain him.”
Almost all of ACPRA’s founding members are already serving lengthy prison terms in connection with their human rights work. al-Shubaily had acted as a legal representative for nine of them.
Al-Shubaily was called for interrogation in November 2013 and was questioned about his human rights work at ACPRA, statements he had signed defending the right to peaceful protest, and phone conversations in which he discussed protests that took place in the city of Buraydah. He was told that if he chose to sign a pledge to stop his activism, that the case against him would be dropped.
He was formally charged in July 2014 with a number of offenses including “inciting [people] to breach public order … by calling for demonstrations” and by accusing the security forces of “repression, torture, assassinations, and enforced disappearances,” describing the Saudi Arabian political system as “a repressive police state,” “insulting the judicial authorities,” and working for “an unlicensed organization.”
During a trial session in March 2015 a new charge was brought against him accusing him of “committing the crime of communicating with foreign bodies and providing them with reports that contain many mistakes about the Kingdom.” The charge mentions two unnamed Amnesty International reports alleged to contain “incorrect information.” The prosecution and the court have ignored al-Shubaily’s repeated requests to be shown the evidence regarding this charge.
“It is both absurd and outrageous that communicating with an international human rights organization has been cited as a criminal, ‘terrorist’ offense. Abdulaziz al-Shubaily is blatantly being punished for courageously speaking out about rampant human rights violations in Saudi Arabia,” said Lynch.
Al-Shubaily refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Specialized Criminal Court which tried and sentenced him. He has argued that the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution which had brought the charges against him falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, which is also known to control the SCC. In the past, he and ACPRA have accused the Ministry of Interior of gross and systematic violations of human rights including torture and enforced disappearances.
“The continuing silence of the international community over the relentless persecution of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia in the recent years is shameful,” said James Lynch.
“Saudi Arabia’s international allies must press the authorities to end this iron-fist clampdown on civil society, which absurdly is being carried out in the name of counter-terrorism. They should also publicly denounce the jailing and persecution of human rights defenders.”