Saudi authorities worked behind closed doors to ensure that humanitarian aid worker and prisoner of conscience, AbdulRahman Al-Sadhan, did not receive a fair trial.
After nearly three years of enforced disappearance, a family member in Riyadh received a call from AbdulRahman in February 22, 2021, the second call in three years. During which AbdulRahman shared promising news that he was informed that he would be released soon. A few days later, AbdulRahman surprisingly again called his family member in Riyadh on March 2, this time indicating that his trial was set to begin the next day. Authorities did not even inform his family regarding the location of his trial; They learned from other detainees’ families that most political prisoners appear in the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC).
The next day on March 3, his family member arrived at the SCC (Special Criminal Court) where authorities confirmed to his family member when he arrived that Abdul would be tried there. However, his family member was prohibited from observing the proceedings, during which Abdul was subject to a secret hearing without the presence of legal counsel. After the hearing, authorities allowed his family member to meet with Abdul for five minutes with the presence of a security guard. This was the first time that any of his family had seen Abdul in three years. Appearing exhausted and frail, it was clear that he went through a severe trauma which took a toll on his health and focus. He was not the Abdul his family knew him to be.
The SCC is not independent; it operates under the authority of the Ministry of Interior and has longstanding pattern of misusing counterterrorism measures to stifle freedom of expression in sham trials. AbdulRahman was similarly subject to numerous fair trial violations. Although the Court approved AbdulRahman's decision to appoint a family member as his legal guardian and provide him with legal representation rights, the SCC appointed Abdul a lawyer of their choice and repeatedly denied his family member from meeting with AbdulRahman to prepare for the hearings. In a later hearing, the Public Prosecutor even claimed that AbdulRahman did not request access to a lawyer during the initial interrogations. Furthermore, rights groups received reliable reports that authorities had extracted a confession through torture, which the prosecution presented as evidence. Neither his family member nor the court-appointed lawyer were provided with a copy of the evidence.
Two weeks before the verdict, the SCC held another secret hearing. Abdul’s lawyer was informed last minute, and by the time he arrived at the Court, the hearing had concluded. The Public Prosecutor presented his objections to the defense’s response to the indictment without the presence of AbdulRahman’s lawyer to counter any factual inaccuracies. A few days later, authorities prohibited his family member from observing the final hearing.
On the day of the verdict, Abdul's family member and Abdul’s court-appointed lawyer arrived at the court on time. They were told that the Public Prosecutor was unhappy with the initial verdict, so they had to wait while the judge rewrote the ruling. The SCC issued a verdict of a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison followed by a twenty-year travel ban. The verdict is a clear message to the Saudi public that the Kingdom will severely punish those who exercise their right to freedom of expression, and to world governments and human rights organizations that MbS will continue to act with impunity so long as he is not sanctioned.