Riyadh detains ‘thousands’ without trial: HRW

AFP, DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

Mon, May 07, 2018 - Page 4

Saudi Arabia has detained thousands of people for years without trial, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday, slamming the country’s powerful crown prince for the “arbitrary detentions.”

Official data from the Saudi Ministry of the Interior, analyzed by HRW, showed that authorities had detained 2,305 people for more than six months without referring them to court.

More than 1,870 had been held for more than a year and 251 for more than three years with their cases still “under investigation,” HRW said, citing the ministry database.

One person has been held for more than a decade in what HRW said was a case of “documented arbitrary detention.”

The ultraconservative kingdom, an absolute monarchy, has introduced a string of reform in past months, spearheaded by the country’s unchallenged Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, dubbed “MBS,” who was appointed heir to the throne in June last year.

Yet arbitrary detention appears to have “increased dramatically in recent years,” HRW said.

The group urged authorities to “stop holding people arbitrarily.”

“If Saudi authorities can hold a detainee for months on end with no charges, it’s clear that the Saudi criminal justice system remains broken and unjust, and it only seems to be getting worse,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for the New York-based rights group. “It seems that MBS’ Vision 2030 plan better describes the length of detentions without charge than an aspirational time horizon for reforms.”

In other developments, a Saudi body seems to have backtracked on a new initiative calling to end prayer-time store closures and gender segregation in public places.

Arabic-language newspaper Okaz reported that the Quality of Life program to improve life had cited both practices as requiring “immediate change” to increase the public’s participation in its activities and boost investor confidence.

The article, published on Friday, was later removed.

Reporters saw a copy of the document it cited, but a different version posted on an official Web site did not mention gender segregation or store closures among needed reforms. No time frame was specified.

Loai Bafaqeeh, chief executive of the Quality of Life program, refused to comment on the apparent discrepancy.

“We are looking into all things that relate to the citizen and resident, including things that involve improving the quality of life, such as families entering sports stadiums and women driving,” he told reporters by telephone on Saturday.

Analysts have said there is no legal basis for enforcing store closures or segregation.

Unrelated men and women are increasingly allowed to enter family sections of restaurants together, and public events have generally done away with such divisions.

Stores still close multiple times a day for prayer for about 30 minutes each, but some allow customers to stay inside and continue shopping.

Additional reporting by Reuters