È UNO DEI PAESI CON IL NUMERO DI CONDANNE A MORTE PIÙ ALTO DEL MONDO, ANCHE IN TERMINI ASSOLUTI, CON L’AGGRAVANTE DI UN SISTEMA GIUDIZIARIO OPACO, NEL QUALE LE GARANZIE PER L’IMPUTATO SONO, INVECE, AI LIVELLI PIÙ BASSI DEL MONDO
Lettera pervenutami il 4 gennaio 2017, spedita dalle associazioni Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort, European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) .
4 January 2017
The Honorable Pietro Ichino MP Senato Della Repubblica Piazza Madama 00186 Roma Italia
Dear Mr. Ichino MP,
We, the undersigned NGOs, ask that your office call on Saudi Arabia to institute an official and immediate moratorium on the use of capital punishment in light of the Kingdom’s continued application of capital punishment within the framework of a deeply flawed judicial system.
The kingdom’s judicial system lacks codified laws resulting in arbitrary, inconsistent, and highly subjective judgements. It is plagued by opacity and due process violations, leading to verdicts that infringe upon defendants’ human rights, including the right to life. As leaders with a record of opposition to the use of capital punishment, we call on you to publicly condemn Saudi authorities’ reliance on this cruel and inhuman form of punishment.
Saudi Arabia was one of 25 countries that actively engaged in executions in the year 2015, and it continues to have one of the highest execution rates in the world. In 2015, the Saudi government executed 158 individuals, the highest number in 21 years. According to the human rights organization Reprieve, the government has executed 153 individuals in 2016. Due to the opacity of the Saudi legal system, the exact number of prisoners on Saudi Arabia’s death row is unknown. As of 6 December, however, the undersigned organisations are aware of at least 61 prisoners currently under sentence of death, many for political crimes. Almost all of them were tried in the Specialised Criminal Court. As of 3 October, the European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights had documented 57 prisoners on death row. Of these prisoners, at least six were minors at the time of the alleged offences for which they have been convicted and sentenced to death. Two other young men have been sentenced to death for offences related to engaging in protests, some of which were allegedly carried out while they were still minors. On 4 December, one man had his death sentence reversed to 30 years in prison, but on 6 December, Saudi Arabia sentenced 15 prisoners to death in a sham espionage trial. Many of these prisoners’ trials were marked by severe judicial irregularities, including in some cases, torture and coerced confessions.
The Saudi government’s rampant use of capital punishment and executions directly contravenes its international human rights obligations. Article 6 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, requires signatory countries that retain the death penalty to use it for only the “most serious crimes.” Despite this, under Saudi law, a number of non-violent crimes can be considered capital crimes, and activities that are not recognized as criminal offences under international human rights law can be considered capital felonies. In 2015, 43 percent of those executed were convicted of smuggling drugs, ranging from marijuana to heroin. Non-nationals constituted three-quarters of the executed drug offenders. Saudi law also allows for the application of capital punishment on charges of “apostasy,” “adultery,” and “blasphemy.”
The vast number of people executed in Saudi Arabia for non-violent offenses illustrates the excessive discretionary power of the country’s judges. This is a symptom of Saudi Arabia’s flawed judicial system,
which lacks a codified penal law and relies on individual interpretations of Islamic law to determine sentences. In this way, judges are able to apply the death penalty even though drug-related crimes do not mandate capital punishment. This system is exacerbated by unfair trials devoid of presumption of innocence, transparency, and due process. In death penalty cases, Saudi judges typically conduct legal proceedings in at least partial secrecy, frequently deny defendants formal representation, and sometimes withhold information from defendants regarding the charges against them. One of the most significant concerns in these cases is that “confessions” extracted under duress, coercion, and torture are often the sole evidence in cases of those sentenced to death.
In October 2014, after detaining him for nearly two years, Saudi authorities sentenced Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr to death, in an opaque trial marred by judicial irregularities and the absence of due process. Sheikh Nimr spent much of his detention in solitary confinement in a military hospital as a result of injuries suffered from being shot in the leg during his arrest and injuries inflicted during torture. During his trial, authorities impeded Sheikh Nimr’s legal team from mounting a coherent legal defense by withholding the dates and times of his trials and copies of the charges against him. Despite the fact that Sheikh Nimr’s death sentence was clearly imposed despite breaches of international minimum standards for the application of the death penalty, his execution was carried out in January 2016.
In May 2014, Saudi officials sentenced Ali al-Nimr to death, and in October 2014, they sentenced Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher to death. The three were minors when Saudi security forces arrested them, aged 17, 17, and 15, respectively. Their presence on death row directly contravenes Saudi Arabia’s obligations under Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that “neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.” Saudi Arabia has attempted to obscure this fact in testimony before a UN committee by stating it does not sentence minors to death, before acknowledging in written evidence to the same committee that it had sentenced children as young as 15 to death. The country’s Specialised Criminal Court sentenced all three to death on the basis of confessions extracted under torture.
Given Saudi Arabia’s continued application of capital punishment represents a violation of international law and human rights standards, we call on you, as outspoken leaders against the brutality and illegality of capital punishment, to publicly demand Saudi Arabia establish an immediate moratorium on the death penalty, particularly in cases involving minors and defendants guilty of non-lethal crimes. Historically, Saudi Arabia has taken advantage of the time period surrounding the New Year, when much of the world is pre-occupied with traditional holidays, to carry out executions. We ask that you remain vocal and vigilant. Capital punishment is unparalleled in its cruelty and finality and remains inevitably and universally prone to prejudice and error. Saudi Arabia must abolish the practice.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort
European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR