Demands for Trump’s intervention to release a Saudi American on trial...

Demands for Trump’s intervention to release a Saudi American on trial...
Demands for Trump’s intervention to release a Saudi American on trial...
On Wednesday, the trial of a Saudi-American citizen began in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the Anti-Terrorism Court that has been designated to try human rights activists in a case that may raise further tensions in Saudi-American relations.

The case of Salah Al-Haidar, detained since April 2019 in Saudi Arabia, has attracted the attention of members of Congress who are urging President Donald to personally seek his immediate and unconditional release.

Al-Haidar, 35, has been imprisoned since his arrest 17 months ago in Saudi Arabia, where his wife and two-year-old son reside, and has a family home in Vienna, Virginia. Al-Haidar faces a prison sentence of between 8 and 33 years for alleged posts on Twitter critical of the Saudi government, according to people familiar with his case, including a US official who insisted on not disclosing his identity in his interview with the Associated Press.

Although the trial began on Wednesday, people with knowledge of the case said they were notified that it would start on Thursday. It was not clear how the misunderstanding occurred, and they said that Al-Haidar’s lawyer and his brother attended the opening session of the trial. The judges listened to his defense as well as that of other defendants who were arrested on similar charges around the same time. The next trial date has been set two months from now. Those people, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that US embassy officials were not present in the courtroom.

The US official said that representatives of a congressional delegation in Virginia, where the Al-Haidar family is located, are pressuring the US State Department to send personnel to observe Al-Haidar’s trial and to ensure transparency to the extent the Saudis allow.

Senator Virginia Tim Kane, a member of the Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism Subcommittee, and Democratic Congressman Gerald Connolly, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and its Middle East Subcommittee, asked Trump in a letter on Wednesday to raise the Al-Haidar issue “at the highest levels” in Saudi government. They said that they believe that his arrest is a target against the family because of its call for social reforms. In that letter, which was also addressed to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Princess Rima bint Bandar: “We urge you to secure the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Al-Haidar and facilitate his return and return Mrs. Al-Youssef to the US We also urge you to do the same with all other American citizens detained in Saudi prisons due to allegations of peaceful dissent. ”

Al-Haidar’s mother, Aziza Al-Youssef, is a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist, and she is among about 12 women who are on trial on charges related to their activism, such as pushing for the right to drive before the ban on women is lifted in mid-2018. Al-Youssef, a grandmother and former university professor, was released from prison a week before her son was arrested. She and others told a Saudi criminal court that they were subjected to ill-treatment during interrogation, including waterboarding, beatings with sticks and electric shocks. She was prevented from leaving the kingdom, despite her permanent residency in the United States.

The crackdown on government critics intensified during the reign of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who continues to face criticism over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in late 2018. Since Khashoggi’s killing, activists and a number of human rights defenders have been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, Condemnations have come from members of Congress, the British Parliament, and others.

The Trump administration has been criticized by Democrats for not lobbying Saudi Arabia enough regarding its human rights file.

The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which oversees Al-Haidar’s trial, is famous for its secretive nature. According to a 53-page report by Amnesty International earlier this year, the court has been used as a “weapon of suppression” to imprison peaceful critics, activists, journalists, clerics and the Shi’a minority, including some of those sentenced to death and executed.

A host of cases are brought to court under broad anti-terrorism laws that criminalize acts such as insulting the government and “disobeying the ruler.”

The Saudi government says that the specialized court follows the same rules and procedures as other criminal courts, and that defendants, their lawyers, and their families can attend the hearings. However, Amnesty International said it has documented many cases of trials that were held in secret. Attempts to appeal the court’s rulings were conducted behind closed doors, without the presence or participation of the defendants or their lawyers.

A person familiar with the case said al-Haidar was not allowed to see his lawyer to discuss the charges before the trial began.

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