Two years behind prison bars after an unfair trial
Saudi Arabia—Thursday, March 21st, 2013—Human rights activist Mohammad Saleh al-Bjadi completes two years behind bars since his arrest on March 21st, 2011. al-Bjadi, a co-founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), was arrested for his prominent role in defending human rights. He was first arrested on September 4th, 2007 for four months without trial, and accused of organizing a protest for families of arbitrarily-detained prisoners. He has been banned from travel since then.
When he discovered that a Yemeni prisoner, Sultan al-Da’s, had allegedly died of torture in al-Turfiya political prison, he became, again, a target for authorities until his arrest on March 21st, 2011. His trial started in August 2011 in the Specialized Criminal Court, which was officially established to try alleged terrorists, without the basic standards of a fair trial. Human rights organizations, like Human Rights Watch, have called for abolishing the court because it is used for trying “peaceful dissidents on politicized charges and in unfair proceedings.” Saudi lawyers have questioned the legality of the court.
Mohammad al-Bjadi has refused to recognize legitimacy of the court, unless it commits itself to the standards of a fair trial: publicity and the presence of lawyers, but the court hearing sessions continued to be secret. The ruling judge, Abdulatif al- Abdulatif, sarcastically told al-Bjadi: “You can see that the door is open,” knowing that the court was heavily surrounded by armed forces. His representatives, Mohammad al-Qahtani and Fowzan al-Harbi, coincidentally found out about the date and time of one session, so they went to the court building before it started, but after waiting for a long period, the judge told them that al-Bjadi had decided to represent himself, and that he had waived his right of access to a lawyer. They asked to attend the trial, since it should be public anyway, but the judge refused their entrance. The following day, one of the representatives received a phone call from al-Bjadi saying that had had insisted on his right to legal representation, and that the court employee who told them otherwise had lied.
On April 10th, 2012, the unjust verdict was issued: four years in prison, and five years of ban on travel. The charges were:
- Co-founding a human rights association (referring to ACPRA).
- Distorting the image of the state in the media (referring to disclosing the death of Sultan al-Da’s, a Yemeni prisoner who allegedly died of torture. al-Bjadi publicized the case and demanded independent investigation.)
- Slandering the juridical system by questing its independence (and there is no more conclusive evidence on that other than the Specialized Criminal Court itself)
- Inciting families of political prisoner to protest and sit-in (even though there is no law criminalizing this act. There is only a non-compulsory fatwa by the Grand Scholars Committee)
- Possessing of blacklisted books (which al-Bjadi had bought from the official Riyadh Book Fair)
The ACPRA condemned the verdict and called it “unjust and arbitrary.” They defied the interior ministry, saying that they were certain that a fair and public trial, with the presence of his representatives, activists, concerned citizens and independent journalists, would prove his innocence.
al-Bjadi has engaged in three hunger strikes to protest maltreatment. The last of which started on September 9th, 2012. Since then, he has not contacted anyone outside prison, including his family. This isolation makes him a likely candidate for torture and maltreatment.
On January 6th, 2013, his legal representative, Fowzan al-Harbi, met the head of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution, Mohammad al-Abdullah. He provided a written request for allowing visits to check upon his health and detainment conditions, but al-Abdullah refused to receive the request and said that he would investigate the situation.
“Free Mohammad al-Bjadi” campaign demands allowing his family and legal representatives to visit and check upon him. We demand his release, since his defense of human rights is no crime at all. Since the trial was secret and unfair, lacking the minimum requirements of a fair trial, which are stated in national and international law, the verdict has no legitimacy.