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    Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sits during an allegiance pledging ceremony in Mecca, Saudi Arabia June 21, 2017

    Four Sentenced to Death in Saudi Arabia by ‘Manifestly Unfair’ Anti-Terror Court

    © REUTERS / Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court
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    Saudi Arabia has handed down the death penalty to four men accused of trying to assassinate “prominent figures.” Their Thursday sentencing was announced just one day after a United Nations report finding that the kingdom uses broad anti-terror laws as a cover for political prosecutions.

    The fate of the four men was determined by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), according to the state-owned Al-Ekhbariya TV. The men are accused of participating in a terrorist cell and of having traveled to Iran to train with its military, the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). 

    At "IRGC camps," it was said at trial, the men trained with weapons and explosives and "to fight in the streets," according to the news outlet. They're also accused of planning to recruit others to participate.

    The men were also said to have planned to assassinate prominent personalities, manufacture explosives and conduct bombings in the kingdom.

    They reportedly used a tourist office to arrange their travel to Iran. The office has been ordered shuttered by a unanimous verdict of the Tripartite Judicial Chamber.

    The rulings followed a Wednesday report by the UN Special Rapporteur on his mission to Saudi Arabia. The report highlights an anti-terror law passed by Riyadh in 2014 and calls it a weapon of the state for cracking down on political dissent. 

    The law allows for the prosecution of a person as a terrorist if they perform any act that is "directly or indirectly intended to disturb the public order of the state, or to destabilise the security of society, or the stability of the state, or to expose its national unity to danger, or to suspend the basic law of governance or some of its articles, or to insult the reputation of the state or its standing, or to inflict damage upon one of its public utilities or its natural resources."

    The first person convicted under the law by the SCC was human rights lawyer Waleed bin Sami Abu al-Khair. The law is so expansive, according to the UN special rapporteur, that the types of activity that fall under its scope include anything from insulting officials within the monarchy to spreading misinformation and "disrespecting the legal profession." In one case, a Sunni Muslim was even prosecuted for criticizing the country's Sunni leaders for prejudices against Shiites.

    But most cases that come before the SCC are "shrouded in secrecy," the special rapporteur noted, adding that trials go ahead in the absence of a defense attorney for the accused. Moreover, the UN investigator cited "broadly consistent" reports he'd received of torture, coerced confessions and solitary confinement for detainees. The report also contains a lengthy section detailing the "use of the death penalty following manifestly unfair trials." 

    Saudi Arabia is a world leader in capital punishment and its rate of executions has doubled under its de-facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is often hailed as a reformer in the West. In his first eight months in power, 133 people were executed, compared to 67 in the eight months preceding his rise to power, according to the UK-based human rights group Reprieve, which focuses on the death penalty, indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition and extrajudicial killings. According to a March 7 report, Saudi Arabia is on track to execute more people in in 2018 than any year prior, despite the kingdom's reputation for it long before his ascent to the throne.

    "Far from a gradual modernisation and improvement of the human rights situation that the government is keen to portray internationally, the true picture seems to be that Saudi Arabia is backsliding into ever more severe political repression," the UN report said.

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