Six prominent Saudi judges and four former judges have been charged with “high treason” and now face the death penalty, Democracy for the Arab Now (DAWN) has warned.
Sources told DAWN that the government has denied the defendants legal counsel and held them incommunicado since their detention on 11 April 2022.
“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,” said Abdullah Alaoudh, Gulf director at DAWN. “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.”
The Saudi State Security Agency arrested the judges on 11 April 2022. Those arrested include six judges from the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh – Abdullah bin Khaled Al-Luhaidan, Abdulaziz Bin Medawi Al-Jaber, Jundub al-Muferrih, Abdulaziz Bin Fahad Al-Dawood, Talal Al-Humaidan, Fahad Al-Sughayyer – and four judges from the High Court – Khalid Bin Awaidh Al-Qahtani, Nasser Bin Saud Al-Harbi, Muhammed Al-Omari and Muhammed Bin Musfir Al-Ghamdi.
Al-Luhaidan had previously convicted prominent women’s rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul on baseless terrorism charges in December 2020, while Al-Jaber sentenced a minor and many others to death, including many of those executed in the mass execution of 81 people in March 2022.
The charges against the judge appear to be politically motivated, DAWN warned, “with no credible evidence presented against the accused”. According to a source with knowledge of the trial and who said he reviewed the court documents presented against the defendants, officials from the State Security Circuit of the Public Prosecution Office charged the SCC judges after they signed confessions stating they had been too “lenient” in the State Security cases they presided over during their tenures as SCC judges.
The same source said the judge presiding over the trial of these ten judges is Awad Al-Ahmari, who has previously been investigated by DAWN for his abuses; he was appointed to head the SCC by a royal decree on 9 June 2022.
After arresting these judges, MBS replaced them on 20 June with his loyalists, who have proceeded to review a number of trials of political activists and Twitter commentators and dramatically increase their sentences. Including in the cases of Salma Al-Shehab and Nourah Al-Qahtani, who have had their sentences increased from eight and 13 years, to 34 and 45 years in prison, respectively, for their use of social media.
“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.