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HRW: Riyadh holds thousands of people in jail without trial

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Saudi Arabia has imprisoned thousands of people for long periods of time, some even for a decade, without ever going to trial, says Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW activists point their finger at the leadership of the Wahhabi kingdom and the powerful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for the practice of “arbitrary arrests”.

According to official data provided by the Ministry of the Interior, and analysed by HRW experts, the authorities have locked up at least 2,305 people – for a period of time ranging from six months to over 10 years – without even sending them to court. In a note the international NGO based in New York emphasizes that the practice “has grown dramatically in recent years”.

Hence the invitation to the kingdom’s authorities to “stop holding people arbitrarily”.

“If Saudi authorities can hold a detainee for months on end with no charges, it’s clear that the Saudi criminal justice system remains broken and unjust, and it only seems to be getting worse,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for the New York-based rights group.

The ultraconservative Saudi kingdom, an absolute monarchy ruled by a fundamentalist view of Sunni Islam, has introduced a series of reforms in recent months, in the context of the “Vision 2030” program desired by the 32-year-old MBS. One of the central objectives is to promote female employment, taking it from the current 22% to more than 30% by 2030.

The reforms are not just about the employment sector: last September the abolition of the driving ban (in force since June) was announced for women and the stadium of the capital was opened to the representatives of the fair sex, who could attend national day celebrationsand football matches. However, severe limitations still remain.

“It seems that MBS’s Vision 2030 plan better describes the length of detentions without charge than an aspirational time horizon for reforms,” denounces HRW.

The hereditary prince is the main architect of the “reformist” plan, whose basic objective is to free the kingdom from the dependence on oil and to modernize one of the most restrictive nations in the world. It provides for the privatization of part of the Aramco oil company and a greater presence of women in the world of work.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia is one of the nations in the world where death sentences are most frequently applied. Capital punishment in the kingdom is foreseen for those guilty of murder, armed robbery, rape and drug trafficking, but also for witchcraft and sodomy. In the past the number of executions was so high that there was a shortage of executioners.

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