Ten judges face the death penalty in Saudi Arabia for being too soft on human rights defenders and women’s rights activists, it has been claimed.
All of the men have been charged with high treason, punishable by death, after signing confessions admitting they had been too “lenient” in cases involving state security.
One of the judges, Abdullah bin Khaled al-Luhaidan, allowed prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to go free two months after she appeared before him in December 2020.
Loujain, who once shared a One World stage with then-Meghan Markle, had two years and ten months of her six-year sentence suspended by al-Luhaidan, meaning that, in addition to the time already served, she was able to walk free in February. 2021.
Saudi authorities arrested al-Hathloul, 31, in May 2018 along with more than a dozen other women’s rights activists in a crackdown ahead of the lifting of the country’s ban on women driving.
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (file photo)
During her 1,001 days in detention, her family claimed that she had been tortured and threatened with rape.
A report by Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), which campaigns for reform in the Middle East, says Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is replacing these judges with hardline loyalists who are reviewing a series of activist trials. politicians and Twitter commentators.
The newly appointed have already begun drastically increasing the sentences of two Saudi women for their use of social media.
Last August, University of Leeds PhD student Salma al-Shehad had her age increased from eight to 34 for allegedly helping dissidents who sought to “disturb public order” by retweeting their posts and posting “false rumors”.
Salma, 34, whose Twitter account has 2,700 followers, was arrested while on vacation in Saudi Arabia in 2021 after calling for reforms and the release of activists before the trip.
Meanwhile, Nourah al-Qahtani, a mother of five in her late 40s, has had her sentence increased from 13 to 45 years for using Twitter to ‘defy’ the country’s leaders.
Of the judges charged with high treason, six are from the Specialized Criminal Court, used to prosecute ‘terrorism’ cases, and four from the High Court, the country’s supreme court.
Loujain al-Hathloul (file photo). One of the judges, Abdullah bin Khaled al-Luhaidan, allowed the prominent women’s rights activist to go free two months after appearing before him in December 2020.
DAWN claims that all have been denied legal advice and are being held incommunicado since their arrest in April 2022.
Another detained judge, Abdulaziz bin Medawi al-Jaber, is one of those charged despite the fact that he sentenced a minor and many others to death, including some of those who died in the mass execution of 81 in one day in March 2022.
Abdullah Alaoudh, Gulf Director at DAWN, said: “The shocking charges brought against these judges, many of whom have handed down abusive sentences against Saudi citizens at the behest of the crown prince, show that no one is safe in Saudi Arabia.”
“The prosecution of these judges is emblematic of the crown prince’s broader purges within the country and his attempts to subordinate the judiciary solely to his wishes.
“Nothing protects the basic rights to life and liberty of a Saudi citizen, not even blindly obeying the dictates of the crown prince or carrying out his dirty work by sentencing his critics to long prison terms.
“By prosecuting these judges, MBS is sending a message to all judges in the country that they must be as brutal as possible to avoid the fate of their victims.”
Last year, the number of people executed by Saudi Arabia was at least 138, more than the 2020 and 2021 totals combined. This was despite authorities implementing a moratorium on the use of the death penalty for non-violent crimes in 2021.
DAWN was co-founded by Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist who was assassinated by a squad of Saudi hitmen at the country’s consulate in Istanbul.
The CIA has claimed that the assassination of the dissident was “probably” ordered by MBS, who denies involvement.