Profiles in Persecution: Husain Abu al-Khair

Husain Abu al-Khair is a Jordanian man who the Saudi government has tortured and sentenced to death in an unfair trial. Husain appealed his death sentence and is currently awaiting the verdict of his appeal.

On 18 May 2014, Husain was travelling from Jordan to Saudi Arabia as a driver for a Saudi woman when Saudi officers arrested him on suspicion of possession of narcotic pills and detained him. During his detention, Saudi officers tortured him for 12 days. They hung him from his feet and beat his stomach, head, feet, hands, and face. They also verbally abused him, insulted him, debased him, and humiliated him. Because of the torture, Husain suffers from pain in his legs and stomach. Additionally, he reports that his physical and mental conditions have deteriorated, and he has lost weight. Under the duress of torture, Husain confessed to the drug trafficking charge, though he maintains that this confession was false.

Additionally, the Saudi authorities subjected Husain to an unfair trial. Even though he later explained to the court that the confession was invalid and given under torture, the court allowed the prosecution to use the confession against Husain. As is practice in the Saudi judicial system, at least one of the judges was not a certified judicial officer; he was a religious cleric who had simply taken some classes administered by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior. Additionally, the Saudi government prevented Husain from having a lawyer present during his trial. The court sentenced Husain to death for the drug charges, contrary to the international requirement that this be reserved only for “the most serious crimes.” The United Nations (UN) Special Procedures offices raised concerns about these injustices in a letter to the Saudi government, which remained largely unaddressed.

Husain appealed the verdict all the way to the Supreme Court, which reversed his sentence and ordered a retrial. The retrial, however, was also unfair – the prosecution again used the confession coerced through torture, Husain was again denied access to an attorney, and, in violation of Saudi law, one of the previous judges sat on the retrial. Additionally, the UN experts’ concerns about unqualified judges remained unaddressed, as the Saudi practice of using religious clerics rather than judicial officers remains in place. The retrial resulted in his death sentence being issued again. Husain has appealed this second death sentence and is awaiting the results of his appeal.

Saudi Arabia has violated the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the Arab Charter on Human Rights (ACHR), both to which it has acceded. Additionally, it has contravened Husain’s right to a fair trial enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Saudi authorities violated Husain’s rights to life, freedom from torture, and a fair trial. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls upon Saudi Arabia to end Husain’s detention, expunge his criminal record, and if serious criminal charges can still be maintained against him, ensure that any subsequent trial is consistent with due process and fair trial rights. We additionally urge the Saudi authorities to investigate claims of torture and to provide adequate redress for victims.