Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Saudi Arabia should urgently enact a penal code to protect all criminal suspects against arbitrary arrest, Human Rights Watch said in two reports released today. Criminal defendants, especially children, need greater protection against gross abuses during interrogation and unfair trials. The new reports are the result of a yearlong examination of the criminal justice system and draw on hundreds of interviews with Saudi officials, current and former detainees, their lawyers, and their families.The first, 144-page report, “Precarious Justice: Arbitrary Detention and Unfair Trials in a Deficient Criminal Justice System,” documents the arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals for vaguely defined crimes or behavior that is not inherently criminal. Once arrested, suspects often face prolonged solitary confinement, ill-treatment, forced confessions, and are denied a lawyer at crucial stages of interrogation and trial. “Current practices in Saudi justice cannot be seen as fair,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Suspects are stuck in a faulty system without any semblance of due process and fair trial rights.” “Precarious Justice” also documents how defendants face prolonged detention before being brought to trial, at which they cannot question witnesses, examine evidence or present an effective defense. “Under Saudi justice today, the presumption is guilt, not innocence,” Stork said. The second, 82-page report, “Adults Before Their Time: Children in Saudi Arabia’s Criminal Justice System,” documents the routine arrest of children for such “offenses” as begging, running away from home, or being alone with a member of the opposite sex. Prosecutors can hold children, like adults, for up to six months before referring them to a judge. In the case of girls, authorities can detain them indefinitely, without judicial review, for what they say is “guidance.” Detention centers mix children under investigation or trial with children convicted of a crime and sometimes with adults. Judges regularly try children without the presence of lawyers or sometimes even guardians, even for crimes punishable by death, flogging, or amputation."" (thanks Nadim)