Several international human rights groups have asked the Saudi Arabia [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] Ministry of Justice [official website, in Arabic] to allow them to observe the trials of four rights activists. In a letter sent to Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed al-Eissa, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), Front Line Defenders, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Alkarama, a Switzerland-based organization focusing on Arab countries, and the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GC4HR) [advocacy websites] stated that they want to see how the Saudi monarchy is handling cases involving opposition leaders and activists [Reuters report]. HRW and AI [JURIST reports] had already condemned the Saudi government for illegally detaining and holding unfair trials against the accused. The four cases at issue involve Saudi lawyer Walid Abu al-Khair and writer Mikhlif al-Shammari, as well as professors and rights advocates Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammad al-Qahtani. They face charges of defaming the country's reputation, supporting international human rights groups and sparking demonstrations against the government. The trial of Shammari will take place before a special criminal court handling only security-related cases that are closed to the public. Human rights lawyers have complained that they were prohibited from meeting with their clients.
Saudi Arabia was criticized not only for its unfair trials against opposition leaders and human rights activists but also for its harsh treatment of detainees. In January the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] reported on the increased use of capital punishment in Saudi Arabia [JURIST report], including increased use of torture to obtain confessions. Additionally it was revealed that the number of capital punishment cases in the country has nearly tripled since 2010. In June of last year AI demanded [JURIST report] that Saudi Arabia immediately cease its executions because there is often a lack of basic procedural due process. AI argued that most of the execution were mainly based on confessions obtained under duress.