One year since the extrajudicial execution of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi citizens are honouring Khashoggi’s legacy by pursuing the fight for their inalienable right to freely express themselves, despite the authorities’ continuing crackdown and the absence of any meaningful signal to hold accountable those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, Amnesty International said today.
“Any talk of assuming responsibility for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing is meaningless if not met with the immediate and unconditional release of dozens of individuals who continue to languish in prison, and who continue to be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, solely for having expressed their opinion in a peaceful manner,” said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International.
To date, Amnesty International has documented the cases of at least 30 prisoners of conscience who are behind bars serving prison sentences of between five and 30 years solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Amongst those currently detained are Mohammad al-Qahtani, a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association who called for the protection and promotion of human rights and provided legal support to families of detainees, and Waleed Abu al-Khair, a lawyer who defended human rights defenders before his imprisonment. Mohammad al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair were tried and sentenced before the counter-terror court to 10 and 15 years in prison, respectively, for their peaceful human rights work.
Marking the first anniversary since Jamal Khashoggi’s extrajudicial execution, Saudi Arabian activists abroad – supported by Amnesty International – are launching a podcast series called “The Great Saudi Arabia”, focusing on different human rights issues affecting the country. The first series focuses on the story of Jamal Khashoggi. At the heart of this initiative is the activists’ desire to demonstrate to everyone in Saudi Arabia and the world at large that extreme measures of repression will not stop them from expressing their views, tell their own stories and continue their fight for the release of other human rights defenders who are paying a hefty price for speaking out.
“The podcast will present a powerful platform for Saudi journalists, scholars and activists to counter the state-led propaganda and misinformation campaign. It will engage the Saudi people in a rare and free discussion on issues such as public participation, rule of law, feminism and other issues related to human rights,” said Hala al-Dosari, a Saudi Arabian scholar and human rights defender.
According to media reports last week on a documentary aired on Sunday 29 September, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohamed bin Salman admitted for the first time that he bears responsibility for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi “because it happened under my watch”.
“Mohamed bin Salman’s taking responsibility for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing will just be yet another failed PR stunt if it is not met with meaningful, concrete and immediate action. This must include an immediate end to the crackdown and the release of all human rights defenders on the one hand; and the prompt and unrestricted access to independent human rights monitors into the country, including to observe and publicly report on the ongoing trial into the case of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing,” said Lynn Maalouf.
Lack of transparency
Jamal Khashoggi was reportedly strangled moments after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey on 2 October 2018. A UN report released by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, in June 2019 concluded that the journalist was the victim of “an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under human rights law”. Saudi Arabia failed to cooperate with Special Rapporteur Callamard during her investigation.
An ongoing trial in Saudi Arabia of 11 suspects charged for their involvement in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, which began in January 2019, has been closed to the public and lacking any form of transparency. Other than the attendance of diplomats, Saudi officials have not permitted independent monitoring of the proceedings. Five suspects face the death penalty as per the Prosecution’s request.
To date, no information has emerged relating to the manner in which the investigation was carried out, whether those accused have had adequate access to legal counsel and other fair trial guarantees and more importantly, about the location of Jamal Khashoggi’s remains and whether these were returned to his family.
Amnesty International has long documented severe shortcomings plaguing the Saudi criminal justice system, including long periods of detention without charge or trial, lack of access to legal counsel during investigation, use of vague and uncodified charges that do not resemble recognizable crimes, and pressure on detainees to sign “confessions” and accept predetermined prison sentences to avoid prolonged arbitrary detention. The lack of independence, transparency, and fairness of the judiciary has meant that the Saudi criminal justice system falls well below international human rights law and standards.
“In light of standing, very serious concerns around due process and fair trials in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Arabian authorities must immediately allow access to independent monitors into this trial, without which it would simply be another sham trial that fails to hold accountable all those responsible for the order and implementation of the killing, and a violation of the right of the family and the wider Saudi public to know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi ‘under the watch’ of Mohamed bin Salman,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Research.
Since Khashoggi’s murder, a crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organizations has continued unabated. Women human rights defenders were charged and tried for their peaceful human rights campaigning and advocacy for women’s rights in the country. While several women activists were temporarily released in recent months, Loujain al-Hathloul. At least 14 civil society activists, writers and family members of detained activists were also arbitrarily detained almost six months ago and remain in detention without charges.
The death penalty has been used as a political weapon against the Shi’a minority in a chilling mass execution of 37 men, the majority from Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority, earlier this year. At least 14 others executed were convicted of offences related to their participation in anti-government demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a majority Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012. The 14 men were subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention and told the court that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during their interrogation in order to have ‘confessions’ extracted from them. Also among those executed is Abdulkareem al-Hawaj – a young Shi’a man who was arrested at the age of 16 and convicted of offences related to his involvement in anti-government protests.
Amnesty International continues to campaign for three young men, Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher who remain on death row and at imminent risk of execution. They were all under the age of 18 at the time of their alleged offences. Under international law, the use of the death penalty against people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime is strictly prohibited.