Spy case slammed as 'stain' on Saudi criminal justice system

Human Rights Watch says trial of 32 men for allegedly spying on behalf of Iran has violated the basic due process rights
Spy case slammed as 'stain' on Saudi criminal justice system
By Staff writer
Sat 28 May 2016 10:03 AM

Saudi Arabia’s trial of 32 men for allegedly spying on behalf of Iran has violated the basic due process rights of the defendants, Human Rights Watch has said.

The international human rights group said in a statement that over nearly three years of detention and investigation and the first two months of hearings, authorities have not permitted defendants to meet with lawyers or provided all of the court documents necessary to prepare a defence.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against 25 of the 32 people accused.

The men are accused of spying for Iran. But the charge sheet, which Human Rights Watch said it has reviewed, contains numerous allegations that do not resemble recognisable crimes, including “supporting demonstrations”, “harming the reputation of the kingdom”, and attempting to “spread the Shia confession”.

The trial began in February at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh.

“This trial is shaping up as another stain on Saudi Arabia’s grossly unfair criminal justice system,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director. “Criminal trials should not be merely legal ‘window-dressing’ where the verdict has been decided beforehand.”

According to the charge sheet, the defendants include 30 Saudis, and one Iranian and one Afghan citizen. Authorities detained 17 detainees on March 16, 2013, 14 others later in 2013, and one in 2014.

Taha al-Haji, a Saudi lawyer who represented a group of the defendants until March, told Human Rights Watch that authorities have not permitted defence lawyers to visit their clients or to view case files and evidence against their clients.

Local Saudi media outlets reported in March that some of the defence lawyers refused to participate in court proceedings.

The conduct of the trial so far raises fears that 25 of the 32 defendants could be handed death sentences without an adequate chance to defend themselves, Human Rights Watch said.

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