Saudi court ‘convicts rights activist Bajadi in secret’

Mohammed al-Bajadi

BBC 18 April 2012
 
A state security tribunal in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a prominent human rights campaigner to four years in prison, Amnesty International has said.
 
The group said it had received credible information the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh had convicted Mohammed al-Bajadi in secret on 10 April.
 
He was detained a year ago after a pro-democracy demonstration in the capital.
 
Last week, the authorities denied Mr Bajadi was on hunger strike, as he had claimed in a letter to activists.
 
The Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA) said on 8 April Mr Bajadi had refused food for a month and that his health was deteriorating.
 
“I inform you that I am still continuing with my hunger strike,” Mr Bajadi wrote in a letter smuggled out of his prison by someone visiting another inmate.
 
“On 20 March, I was taken to the prison hospital for a check-up and force-fed in the presence of five soldiers and the ward officer.”
 
His lawyers have asked to be allowed to visit him in prison to check for themselves, but are not believed to have been granted access.
 
‘Denied justice’
 
Mr Bajadi was arrested by domestic intelligence agents on 21 March 2011, a day after a small group of Saudis demonstrated in Riyadh, calling for the release of thousands of people detained without charge or trial.
 
Mr Bajadi was later charged with participating in the establishment of an unlicensed human rights organisation, harming the image of the state through the media, calling on the families of political detainees to protest, contesting the judiciary’s independence and possessing banned books.
 
He was a founding member of ACPRA, which the government had refused to license, while the books in question came from the 2011 international book fair in Riyadh, according to fellow activists.
 
Judges prohibited Mr Bajadi’s lawyers from attending his trial at the Specialised Criminal Court, a state security tribunal for terrorism cases, which began in August.
 
On Tuesday evening, Amnesty said the court had sentenced him to four years in jail, followed by a five-year travel ban in a secret session. Neither his family nor his lawyers were made aware of the hearing.
 
“Mohammed Saleh al-Bajadi appears to have been convicted on charges that amount to the criminalisation of his rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther.
 
“After more than a year in detention without being able to see his lawyer, he has been denied any form of justice in a process which flagrantly breaches his rights,” he added.
 
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