The fear that the executions of three young men arrested by Saudi Arabian authorities while they were juveniles are imminent may be legitimate and the reasons for applying pressure on the Saudi government to spare their lives ought to be kept front and center in activists’ minds each day, but a clear eye and caution must be maintained while interpreting the pronouncements of the Saudi judicial system.
It was striking that Amnesty International and Reprieve, two organizations that are tenacious human rights defenders but also cautious as organizations, on Friday began to publicize fears that the three executions were hours away from taking place, given that the fears came from a single source: an article in a Saudi newspaper, Okaz.
One can hazard a guess as to the effect this publicity had on the families and loved ones of Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Ali Mohammad al-Nimr: on one hand, it may have been heartening to witness the world bearing witness with speed and ferocity, as the #SaveThe3 hashtag started trending on Twitter, but it also may have given needless vitality to the fears for the worst outcomes that the families already live with every day. The three were sentenced to death last year, and, for the families each day opens and closes with the knowledge of this in their hearts.
A source reported to me this afternoon that Ali spoke with his family by phone on Friday, and that Abdullah spoke with his family today, Sunday, March 13.
The three juveniles were charged with many acts, all related to attending protests, but the article in Okaz read in part, “The four terrorists awaiting the implementation of the death sentences complement the first group of 47.” The three juveniles were not charged with “terrorism.” The news that Okaz was reporting on Friday was that the death sentences against these four “terrorists” had been upheld by 13 judges, and that when these sentences are “implemented” (their term), this will “perfect the first batch covered by the implementation of retribution against the 47” (translated by Google Translator).
The “47” mentioned are the 47 prisoners who were executed by beheading on January 2, including Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr’s uncle who was a Shi’ite cleric who encouraged peaceful protest. Most of the 47 were Sunnis, but four including the Sheikh were members of the Shi’ite minority that is mostly based in Qatif. His death led to worldwide protests against the Saudi regime.
According to a letter that Margaret Ferrier, a Member of Parliament from Scotland, sent two days ago to Prime Minister David Cameron, the human rights organization Reprieve read the report in Okaz with the three juveniles in mind and that it “is of the opinion that Ali, Dawoud, and Abdullah were originally intended to be among the 47 people executed” on January 2. Here is her Tweet of the letter:
I have just emailed an urgent letter to David Cameron about possible imminent Saudi executions#FreeThe3 #AliAlNimr pic.twitter.com/AkOS5JH8CY
— Margaret Ferrier MP (@MargaretFerrier) March 11, 2016
One of my sources, Raymond Johansen, Global Pirate Party Activist and Anon who is taking part in the Raif Badawi and Nimr family causes, who has been assiduously monitoring news from Saudi Arabia and also has his own sources in the region, reminds us that to the best of our knowledge, “The three juveniles, including Ali al-Nimr, [already] had their verdict upheld last year by the SCC (Specialised Criminal Court). There is no reason why 13 judges would again hear their cases.”
Okaz reported that the executions of these four “terrorists” would take place soon, perhaps this Saturday, but news media in the region have reported but one execution this weekend, that of a man, Hadian Al Qahtani, who was convicted of murder. (He was the 72nd prisoner executed this year in Saudi Arabia. That is one execution per day so far in 2016 in the Kingdom.) Okaz further reported that the implementation of the executions had been pending the authorities completing their investigations into the prisoners’ involvement with Daesh—the three juveniles now in prison and the four Shi’a who were executed on January 2 including Sheikh Nimr were convicted of many crimes, usually inciting violence and shooting policemen, but activities on behalf of Daesh or the Islamic State or even al-Qaeda were not among them.
Reprieve and Amnesty International had (and have) every reason to sound alarms on behalf of Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Ali Mohammad al-Nimr, because the trickle of information coming from the Kingdom in recent days bears sufficient similarity to the trickle of information that began to come out of that nation last autumn in advance of the 47 beheadings that took place on January 2. Reports began to emerge last fall that the three juveniles are being subjected to terrible prison conditions; I have never interpreted this winter’s lack of reports about the conditions to mean that those conditions have improved.
This weekend’s #SaveThe3 and #FreeThe3 virtual marches and the real marches at Saudi embassies around the world are not a case of the “activists crying wolf.” They never are, because real people are losing their lives in a nation that is desperate to stifle and even silence dissent, to strike fear in the hearts of a minority population among its citizenry, and to control thought in the name of religion, and that nation is a major Western ally.
In September of last year, the case of Ali Mohammad al-Nimr attracted international revulsion when it was announced that his guilty verdict had been upheld on appeal and his sentence of death by beheading followed by crucifixion was to be carried out, pending approval by King Salman. Among the charges against Ali: “explaining how to give first aid to protestors” and using his cell phone to invite others to join him at the protest. There were other charges, like carrying a firearm, attacking security forces, and armed robbery. He was not armed, but this matters little as he signed a confession, which the human rights organization Reprieve labels as “false.” It is assumed by human rights organizations that he was tortured. He was physically injured in the arrest, when the police ran over him with their car, which they were driving with its lights off on a moonless night.
According to Amnesty International, at trial Ali was denied access to the evidence against him, “was not even informed of the charges until half way through the proceedings, when his forced confession was the only evidence brought against him.” Further, his final appeal was held in secret, without his knowledge.
When the world learned of his sentence and that it had been upheld on appeal, in September, political leaders in the United Kingdom and France spoke out against his death sentence and crucifixion. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Prime Minister David Cameron have spoken about Ali’s case. These political leaders broke with the polite diplomatic habit of not speaking of specific cases unfolding in foreign, allied, nations and instead they each raised Ali’s specific case in speeches, press releases, meetings in Parliament, and with their Saudi Arabian counterparts. The world does not yet know if this change in tactic has saved anyone’s life.
In October, it was announced that a £5.9 million contract between the Justice Ministry of the United Kingdom and its counterpart in Saudi Arabia will be scrapped, and Ali’s story was connected to this deal’s failure so frequently in the media that the Saudi public relations machine was engaged to step up its efforts to improve the Kingdom’s image in Britain and America.
That same month, U.K. Foreign Minister Philip Hammond took the unprecedented step of announcing on the floor of Parliament in the plainest of terms, “I do not expect Mr. al-Nimr to be executed.”
Okay. The world is watching.
* * * *
Raymond Johansen, Global Pirate Party Activist and Anon who is taking part in the Raif Badawi and Nimr family causes, contributed substantially to this article and has helped me broaden and deepen my understanding of several issues that I have been writing about in the last 14 months.
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A terrible way to *live* — waiting for death. It is not fair to the individuals and their families, of course, but it is an insult against a people’s ancestors as well as against a nation. It is time to let all perceived political prisoners go so as to concentrate on truly improving the quality of life for all. I thought that was what kings/presidents/pm’s/patriarchs do.
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