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Saudi Arabia: Sentencing of human rights defender Mr Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi
On 10 April the Saudi Ministry of Interior's Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced Mr Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi to four years in prison and a five year travel ban, after a grossly unfair trial.
Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi is a leading human rights defender and a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA). He is renowned for his advocacy work on behalf of political prisoners and his support of families of political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.
Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi, who had been detained before in 2007, was convicted of a number of charges brought against him by the SCC including “disobedience of the rulers”, “speaking to foreign media”, “incitement of demonstrations”, “being a member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association”, "questioning the competence of the Saudi judiciary system" and "possession of banned books". The charges are believed to be political motivated as they directly related to Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi's human rights work including membership of ACPRA, which functions openly and legitimately in Saudi Arabia, and exposing the death of a Yemeni national in the custody of the Directorate of General Investigations (DGI) reportedly as a result of torture. Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi is currently detained at Ha'ir Prison in the capital Riyadh.
The sentence was passed following an incamera trial by judge Abdelatif Abdelatif in the absence of Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi who refused to recognise the competence of the court because it refused his demands for the trial to be public and for him to be allowed access to a defence team. Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi considered his trial before the SCC, which functions outside the ordinary court system in Saudi Arabia, to be grossly short of international fair trial standards. He attended the court proceedings only once on 3 December 2011 during which he contested the competence of the SCC. When his demands for a fair trial where turned down, Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi declared a hunger strike in protest on 11 March 2012 and was on hunger strike for least five weeks. He stopped taking liquids on 7 April 2012, three days before his sentencing. Contrary to the truth, the Saudi Ministry of Interior issued a public statement denying that Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi was on hunger strike and stating that he was in good health and taking his regular meals with fellow prisoners. The Saudi authorities claim that the trial was public and was attended by a representative of the official human right commission. It is widely believed that the sentencing was issued by the Ministry of Interior and approved by the presiding judge.
Front Line Defenders condemns the sentencing of Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi and considers his trial to have been grossly unfair. Front Line Defenders believes that the sentencing and imprisonment of Muhammad Saleh AAl-Bejadi are directly related to his peaceful and legitimate human rights work including his support of political prisoners and his exposure of human rights violations committed by the Saudi security services including the DGI.
Front Line Defenders reiterates its calls on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Muhammad Saleh Al-Bejadi, to drop all charges against him and to guarantee that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their human rights work without fear and free from all restrictions including judicial harassment.