Ten judges in Saudi Arabia risk the death penalty for being too lenient on human rights activists and women’s rights activists, it is alleged.
The men have all been charged with high treason – punishable by death – after signing confessions admitting they had been too “indulgent” in matters involving state security.
One of the judges, Abdullah bin Khaled al-Luhaidan, freed prominent women’s rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, two months after she appeared before him in December 2020.
Loujain, who once shared a One World stage with the then Meghan Markle, was given two years and 10 months of her six-year prison sentence by al-Luhaidan on probation, meaning – in addition to time already expelled – she was free to roam in February to walk. 2021.
Saudi authorities had arrested al-Hathloul, 31, along with more than a dozen other women’s rights activists in May 2018 in a crackdown ahead of the lifting of the country’s driving ban on women.
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (file photo)
During her 1,001 days in detention, her family claimed 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 number of trials against political activists and Twitter commentators.
The newly appointed men have already begun dramatically increasing sentences for two Saudi women for their use of social media.
Salma al-Shehad, a PhD student at the University of Leeds, has raised hers from eight to 34 years because she allegedly aided dissidents seeking to ‘disturb public order’ by retweeting their posts and publishing ‘false rumours’.
Salma, 34, whose Twitter account has 2,700 followers, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2021 while on vacation after calling for reforms and the release of activists ahead of the trip.
Meanwhile, Nourah al-Qahtani, a mother of five in her late 40s, had her sentence increased from 13 to 45 for using Twitter to “challenge” the country’s leaders.
Of the judges charged with high treason, six come from the Specialized Criminal Court, which is used to prosecute ‘terrorism cases’, and four from the High Court, the country’s highest court.
Loujain al-Hathloul (archive photo). One of the judges, Abdullah bin Khaled al-Luhaidan, acquitted the prominent women’s rights activist two months after she appeared before him in December 2020
DAWN claims they have all been denied legal advice and have been held incommunicado since their April 2022 arrest.
Another judge, Abdulaziz bin Medawi al-Jaber, is among the defendants, despite sentencing to death a minor and many others, including some of those who died in the mass execution of 81 people in one day in March 2022.
Abdullah Alaoudh, Gulf Director at DAWN, said: “The shocking charges brought against these judges, many of whom have issued blatant abusive sentences against Saudi citizens at the crown prince’s behest, show that no one is safe in Saudi Arabia.
“The prosecution of these judges is typical of the crown prince’s wider purges in the country and his efforts to subordinate the judiciary solely to his wishes.
Nothing protects a Saudi citizen’s basic rights to life and liberty, not even blindly obeying the orders of the Crown Prince or doing his dirty work by sentencing his critics to long prison terms.
“By prosecuting these judges, MBS is sending a message to every judge in the country that they must be as brutal as possible to avoid the fate of their victims.”
Last year, the number of those executed by Saudi Arabia was at least 138, which is more than the 2020 and 2021 totals combined. This is despite the authorities introducing 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 killed by a Saudi hit squad in the country’s consulate in Istanbul.
The CIA has claimed that the dissident’s assassination was “most likely” ordered by MBS, which denies involvement.