In a police state, the presumption is that if one is arrested, one has done wrong. No defense can be mounted for a person who stands accused in a system that is as divorced from logic, grants no respect to human decency, lacks human rights as one that assumes an accusation is the same thing as guilt.
Police states force anyone accused of a crime to mount an argument against the logic that makes arguing a crime. It is also common for justice systems in police states to keep the accused wondering what exactly they have been charged with or will be charged with, which makes mounting an appropriate or effective defense almost impossible. Important matters like evidence or the lack of evidence are rendered moot.
Saudi Arabia is only one such nation; there are others, certainly.
The case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia has attracted much attention in recent months, in this website and elsewhere. The young man was arrested at a protest and charged with so many crimes of such scale and scope that it would be comically impossible for one person to have committed them. He was arrested as a youth and treated as an adult, which flouts international conventions. Nonetheless, Ali was convicted and sentenced to die by public beheading; furthermore, after the beheading, his body is to be publicly displayed, crucified, to show him, to show others like him, to show the world … well, what exactly? I do not know.
(That word, “crucifixion,” seems to have earned much of the attention from some of the American population.)
He is not the only prisoner on death row in Saudi Arabia today. I will introduce you to a death row prisoner who is receiving almost no attention, a man named Hussein Abu al-Khair, in a moment.
Almost every prisoner sentenced to die in Saudi Arabia is beheaded, a method that I have seen chillingly argued as being more humane than the American method of lethal injection (which I am also vehemently against). There are videos online, several videos, that are purported to show a genuine judicial beheading in Saudi Arabia. I have not seen if these have been verified as real or if they even could be. To me, each method of judicially administered death is chilling. Some are executed by firing squad. All are dispatched in public; almost all punishments in Saudi Arabia, corporal and capital, are delivered in public, as if they are an entertainment.
Only the nations of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, and Qatar have beheading as a legal means of execution; Saudi Arabia is the only nation that actually employs the method.
A British man named Karl Andree was arrested in August 2014; police stated that they found bottles of homemade wine in his vehicle. Because Saudi Arabia is officially a dry country in which alcohol and drugs are strictly forbidden, this is a serious crime to be accused of. He was convicted and sentenced to be whipped in public. He was due to receive 350 lashes, which his children thought was tantamount to a death sentence as he is elderly and ill. The British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, did something that ministers of state rarely do: he spoke out about a specific case. Andree was spared the 350 lashes he was to receive and was freed just this week. He spent 14 months in jail.
Like Karl Andree, Hussein Abu al-Khair was arrested in 2014 after he was pulled over by police. They charged him with smuggling drugs across the border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. According to his sister, Zeinab Abdle, he was told by the police that they were arresting him for drug smuggling even though they did not inspect the vehicle. Why look for something you are not going to find when officially you have found it already?
Zeinab described what followed in a letter to me: “He was detained and was tortured for 12 days by being hung up-side down by the ankles with the help of thick chains. He was beaten with sticks, hands and other methods. He has been spat on, insulted and shamed through insults. His body has been hung with his legs and hands stretched out as he was being hurt. When his body and spirit were broken, he was forced to sign a false declaration saying that he admitted to smuggling drugs into Saudi Arabia. From this moment on, he was thrown into the Tabook jail awaiting his trial.”
Signed confessions are a police state’s favorite prosecution weapon. There is no possible defense against them, even when torture has been employed to win the signature, even when the country using torture has signed international agreements outlawing torture.
Hussein was granted an appeal after his conviction, but in both trials, his first one and the appeal, no defense attorney was made available to him. He has faced all of this alone. I am the first columnist to tell his story. Unlike Karl Andree, Hussein was sentenced to be beheaded.
Like Andree, Hussein is not a Saudi Arabian national; he is Jordanian. His being Jordanian has possibly made things worse for him: 72 of the 152 executions carried out by Saudi Arabia so far in 2015 were of non Saudi foreign nationals. (These numbers are up-to-date as of November 9, according to ESOHR.) This is almost half of the executions.
It is a relatively uncommon practice for one nation to execute non-citizens in its justice system.
In a report published this week, Amnesty International wrote, “The death penalty is disproportionately used against foreigners in Saudi Arabia. Foreign nationals, mostly migrant workers from developing countries, are particularly vulnerable as they typically lack knowledge of Arabic and are denied adequate translation during their trials.”
Saudi Arabia does not have a published penal code as we in America understand it; the nation codified a “Basic Law of Governance” in 1992 that states “The Courts shall apply rules of the Islamic Sharia in cases that are brought before them, according to the Holy Quran and the Sunna.” As Amnesty International wrote in a report this August, “To a large extent, both Sharia and statutory laws are vague on the vast majority of definitions of crimes and their punishment.”
Sharia law is profoundly clear about hudud punishments, which are mandatory and unchangeable because they are punishments for “crimes against God.” According to Amnesty, “Hudud are considered divine punishments and are not subject to a pardon.”
The death penalty is a hadd (singular for hudud) for the following offences: apostasy, adultery by a married person (for which it is stipulated that the sentence should be carried out by stoning), and rebellion and highway robbery (which is defined through a generic reference to violent criminal acts against persons and property and generation of fear in the community). In the case of rebellion and highway robbery, the punishment is death followed by crucifixion if the crime resulted in the death of the victim.—Amnesty International, “Killing in the Name of Justice,” August 2015
Drug smuggling is not a crime for which beheading is a hadd, but it has been decided that it falls under tazir punishments, meaning the trial judge has discretion. According to Amnesty, “crimes falling under the tazir category do not require proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, unless such crimes have been clearly codified in the form of a statutory law and there is no room for interpretation. This was recently confirmed by Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court in a statement dated 1 February 2015. For tazir crimes, suspicion alone can serve as the basis of evidence, even for crimes punishable by death under tazir, such as drug-related offences. In such cases, the judge is granted the right to use discretion to establish that the evidence supports the accusations against a suspect and that it is enough to punish someone to death.” Thus, the police who arrested Hussein Abu al-Khair did not even need to look for the drugs in his car that they were going to accuse him of smuggling. And so, according to what he told his sister from prison, they did not. What the police needed, more than the drugs, was an arrest and a signed confession.
The supreme judicial authority in Saudi Arabia is the king, and he appoints the judges. In a police state, in which the judges are inclined to want to impress the king with their tough-on-crime sentences, and the police are tasked with finding more and more cases to be used by those judges to impress the king, the need for adequate defense for the accused is the first thing lost. The next thing lost is respect for prisoners at all, because confessions are needed to make such a bloodthirsty legal system work more efficiently.
Hussein’s sister produced a video, which I share here:
The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 12 asks, “Head to your favorite online news source. Pick an article with a headline that grabs you. Now, write a short story based on the article.”
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Hi Mark! Thanks for the excellent article, it was most informative. Like to say what a bunch of greasy fig suckers but this is a very serious situation. I like how that King is a good customer of ours and we just turn away. I’ve seen videos of beheadings and mass murder in Uganda of 2000 folks by machete just by accident, but Clooney gets a haircut and it’s all over the news. Keep it coming Mark, the world needs you!
What a terrible way for any person to live. Is there anything that human rights bodies can effectively do?
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Mark – I had to skim it – too long sitting at the computer.
I so appreciate that you share details on these human
rights violations, which I would not know about
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