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HRW alarmed by Saudi’s mass trial of Palestinians, Jordanians

File photo shows the interior of a prison in Saudi Arabia (Photo by Reuters)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) raises serious questions about the circumstances surrounding Saudi Arabia’s mass arrest, detention, and trial of scores of Palestinians and Jordanians for, what Riyadh calls, association with an unnamed “terrorist organization.”

In a Friday report, the New York-based body reflected on how the kingdom had gone an arrest spree of the 68 Palestinians and Jordanians, who are all long-term Saudi residents, in March 2018.

‘Drawn-out detention, torture’

The arrestees were kept in detention for almost two years without being able to apply any of their rights to due process, and given a closed-door trial at the Specialized Criminal Court in the Saudi capital only last month for the first time since being arrested, HRW said.

Only then, they were handed a charge sheet alleging their “belonging to” and “supporting” the supposed terrorist outfit, the body said, citing accounts by some family members, who had witnessed the document in part.

The whole drama was marked by an absence of any specific accusations or evidence, HRW noted.

The rights body talked to six family members, all of whom requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. The relatives’ accounts pointed to security raids, enforced disappearances, long-term solitary confinement, and torture.

“A large number [of security forces] entered wearing masks, with guns and cameras, like they were going to a battle,” one said. “I had to tell her (my nine-year-old daughter) that they’re looking for a thief.”

Another relative cited one detainee as saying, “they (the interrogators) used to wake him up at 5 a.m. to put his head in hot water,” adding, “Sometimes they would leave him hanging upside down for two days.”

Amnesty International has identified one of the detainees as Dr. Muhammed al-Khudari, a ranking member of the Palestinian resistance movement of Hamas. The UK-based human rights organization has called on Saudi King Salman to order the 82-year-old’s immediate release, citing his suffering from cancer and the highly contagious new coronavirus’ outbreak.

“Saudi Arabia’s long record of unfair trails raises the specter that Jordanians and Palestinians will be railroaded on serious charges and face severe penalties even though some have alleged serious abuses,” said Michael Page, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.

“At a time when Covid-19 presents acute dangers to prisoners, Saudi Arabia should consider alternatives to detention, particularly for those in pretrial detention,” he added.

Saudi Arabia, which practices the radical ideology of Wahhabism, vaguely broadened the definition of “terrorism” in its legal system in 2017, after which the kingdom began launching repeated swoops against peaceful activists and dissidents.

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