Saudi Judges Face Death Penalty for Being 'Too Soft' on Feminist Activists

Human rights organization Democracy for Arab World Now (DAWN) warned that Saudi authorities could sentence six renowned Saudi judges and four former justices to death after charging them with "high treason" due to accusations they were “too soft” on women’s rights activists.

DAWN found out from unnamed sources that the accused judges were denied the right to legal counsel, and they were held incommunicado since they were detained on April 11 of last year.

The arrested judges include six from Riyadh’s Specialised Criminal Court (SCC). They were Abdullah bin Khaled Al-Luhaidan, Abdulaziz Bin Medawi Al-Jaber, Jundub al-Muferrih, Abdulaziz Bin Fahad Al-Dawood, Talal Al-Humaidan, and Fahad Al-Sughayyer.

Aside from these six judges, Saudi Arabia’s State Security Agency also apprehended Khalid Bin Awaidh Al-Qahtani, Nasser Bin Saud Al-Harbi, Muhammed Al-Omari, and Muhammed Bin Musfir Al-Ghamdi in April last year. They were former justices from the country’s High Court.

"The shocking charges leveled against these judges, many of whom have issued egregiously abusive sentences against Saudi citizens at the behest of the Crown Prince, demonstrates that no one is safe in Saudi Arabia," Abdullah Alaoudh, DAWN”s director for the Gulf region, have warned.

"The prosecution of these judges is emblematic of the Crown Prince's wider purges within the country and his attempts to make the judiciary subservient solely to his wishes," Alaoudh added.

DAWN told the charges against the arrested justices were politically motivated, “with no credible evidence presented against the accused.

A source who claimed to have reviewed the court documents presented against the accused and had knowledge of the trial said the State Security Circuit of the Public Prosecution Office brought charges against the six SSC judges after signing a confession paper saying they were too "lenient" in the State Security cases they presided while serving in the SSC.

Abdullah bin Khaled Al-Luhaidan previously convicted prominent women’s rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul on baseless terrorism charges last December 2020. Abdulaziz Bin Medawi Al-Jaber sentenced many defendants, including a minor, to death, including those who were executed in a mass execution of 81 people in March last year.

The source said the judge presiding over the case of the ten arrested judges was Awad Al-Ahmari, whom DAWN previously investigated due to his abuses. He was appointed head of SSC through a royal decree in June last year.

After the six judges were arrested, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman replaced them with his loyalists. They reviewed several cases involving political activists and Twitter commentators and deliberately increased their sentences.

Some of these cases include Salma Al-Shehab and Nourah Al-Qahtani. They were arrested for using social media. Their sentences were increased from eight and 13 years to 34 and 45 years imprisonment, respectively.

"By prosecuting these judges, MBS is sending a message to every judge in the country that they have to be as brutal as possible to avoid the fate of their victims," Alaoudh said.

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