by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A Saudi Arabian court issued death sentences to 15 individuals, and prison sentences ranging from six months to 25 years for an additional 15 individuals, after they were convicted of spying for Iran.
In February 2016, Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court initiated trial proceedings against 32 men: 30 members of the country’s Shia Muslim minority, an Iranian citizen, and an Afghani national. They were accused of “treason, setting up a spy ring, and passing on sensitive data to military zones.” Saudi Arabian media indicated that the defendants provided Iran, the country’s long-term rival, with sensitive national security information which attacked the nation’s “territorial unity and integrity,” as well as its armed forces. The defendants were accused of meeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, coordinating with Iranian intelligence agents, possessing weapons, forging documents, and accepting bribes. Additionally, prosecutors alleged that they were attempting to sabotage the country’s economy, “undermine social peace and public order, spread chaos, incite sectarian strife, and carry out ‘hostile acts’” against the nation. The charges further included allegations of traveling to Iran and Lebanon for the purpose of receiving training on espionage techniques.
A lawyer who represented a majority of the defendants, Mr. Taha al-Hajji, informed Amnesty International that his clients were detained between 2013 and 2014 without an arrest warrant, and secretly imprisoned for approximately three months. During the trial, some defendants testified that they were threatened with solitary confinement. They further indicated that they were coerced into signing confession statements on the grounds that they would be “banned from having contact with their families” if they declined to do so.
Amnesty International has characterized the trial process as “grossly unfair.” The defendants were held in custody for nearly three years without charges or a trial. Once proceedings were initiated, the defendants were charged with an “exhaustive list” of accusations, comprising nearly 100 pages. At that point, Mr. Hajji indicates, some defendants had just met their attorneys for the first time. Furthermore, several lawyers complained that they had not been permitted to meet with their clients, view evidence, or prepare adequate defenses.
The Deputy Director of Campaigns for Amnesty International’s Beirut office, Mr. Samah Hadid, issued a statement in which he stated that it is a “slap in the face” to sentence 15 people to death after a “farcical trial which flouted basic fair trial standards.” He further indicated that the legal proceedings in this case have made a “mockery of justice.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman has denied any instances of Iranian spying in Saudi Arabia, while indicating that the accusations are “baseless and serve political motives.”
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