Essa al-Nukhaifi, a campaigner for reform, has written to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman from Mecca General Penitentiary calling for a number of urgent reforms. His letter contains several pieces of advice and proposals for wide-ranging reform, totalling twenty-five recommendations, dealing with prisons and detention centres, trials, women’s rights, political rights and the role of civil society organisations. Nukhaifi, whose latest court appearance was suddenly brought forward at short notice from February 28 to February 27, only to be postponed back to February 28, faces charges relating to freedom of expression and his human rights work. Here is the text of his letter:
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent
To His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed Bin Salman,
Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence,
may God give him success and guidance.
Peace be upon you, and God’s mercy and blessings.
I am writing to you out of love, zeal and patriotism, and in response to your kind invitation to write to you. I have been delighted to hear your speeches and media interviews in which you call for freedom of expression and respect for human rights, which is what we are calling for and share your wish to achieve. The first practical measure was the removal of the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution from the Ministry of Interior and its redesignation as the Public Prosecution. This excellent initial step declared itself the harbinger of real reform such as we have been seeking. I here place before you some other steps that will strengthen your position, boost your reformist credentials and bring happiness to everyone. I am writing to you about them from a place of detention, where I being detained because of calling for these things. I am sure you will agree with me about them, and that you will welcome them. That is why I am writing to you about them, in full confidence that we will soon see them happening, and that they will serve to usher in your blessed reign. They are as follows:
- The immediate release of human rights detainees and prisoners of conscience such as journalists and politicians, and the quashing of charges against those pursued because of their opinions – while also compensating them for damages and allowing them to express their views – will increase your popularity and the people’s love for you as a true man of reform.
- The immediate release of detainees whose sentences have expired, and compensating them for damages for having overstayed their prison terms, will help to speed up the reform process that you and we together are seeking.
- Ensuring prompt and fair trials for all those in detention who have not yet been tried, immediately releasing any detainee being held without charge, and complying with human rights standards in all matters of arrest, custody, investigation, trial, and time served in prison, will make our country an advanced and civilised country.
- It would be fair and just for all death sentences against minors to be quashed, and that they should be re-tried in accordance with the standards for fair trials, taking into account their ages at the time of committing the offence.
- It would be fair and just for all ta’ziri (discretionary) sentences to be quashed, and for an end to the practice of giving judges powers beyond those prescribed in law, allowing them discretion to apply the death penalty.
- It would be fair and just for all those sentenced as a result of unfair trials to be re-tried, with lawyers and interpreters available for those who need them, and for trials to be held openly and meet the standards for fair trials.
- Refusing to accept any interrogation or statement extracted under psychological or physical torture, and re-hearing all trials that have relied on statements extracted under torture, would show compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has signed. We are also concerned that those who commit torture should be brought to account and not go unpunished, and that all those who are shown to have suffered any form of torture should receive compensation.
- Prisons are in urgent need of improvement. As a matter of justice and equity, prisoners should be guaranteed their basic rights and not subjected to torture or bullying or exposed to danger inside the prison as a result of negligence by the authorities, whether because of the presence of drugs gangs or the prevalence of infectious diseases.
- The people are calling for independence of the judiciary. As a matter of justice and equity, the judiciary should not be subject to political control, justice should be codified in law, and the courts should be regulated by clear and specific laws that do not allow judges to overstep the mark and impose penalties out of proportion to the offence, or that vary from court to court or from judge to judge without reference to a fixed legal tariff.
- As a matter of justice and equity, the Specialised Criminal Court, which has no legal basis, should be abolished.
- As a matter of justice and equity, all courts should have their independence guaranteed. They should be fully independent and not subject to the political authorities in any way.
- It would be fair and just to allow civil society institutions to form freely in order to monitor the performance of government agencies, and ensure that they act with integrity and serve society instead of serving themselves and draining public resources for the benefit of certain groups.
- The people are calling, as a matter of justice and equity, for the lifting of the restrictions imposed on the free expression of opinions in case of criticism of the authorities and their excesses.
- As a matter of justice and equity, the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, the Anti-Cyber Crime Law, the Press and Publications Law and other regulations relating to freedom of expression should be revised. All laws and regulations should be compatible with human rights, and terrorism should be not be defined in a way that confuses it with freedom of expression.
- As a matter of justice and equity, there should be legislation to prevent incitement against others and to criminalise slander and defamation, to ensure that the personal right to freedom of expression cannot be used to infringe or detract from the rights of others, and to stamp out all forms of racial discrimination.
- The people are calling, as an urgent matter of justice and equity, for the lifting of the restrictions on women that prevent them from driving. It is vitally important for the traffic regulations to be amended on the same lines as neighbouring countries like the UAE and Egypt.
- As a matter of justice and equity, laws should be passed to protect women from domestic violence, oppression and marginalisation, and allowing them to take an active part in building their society without restrictions.
- As a matter of justice and equity, legislation should be introduced to prevent sexual harassment and protect vulnerable groups from being harassed and exploited.
- As a matter of justice and equity, there needs to be a prompt and urgent resolution of the issue of stateless persons, including the bidoon, members of nomadic tribes, the mawaleed, and the children of non-Saudis who do not have Saudi citizenship. I also request that the Saudi Residence Regulations and Saudi Citizenship System be amended and updated, and that these stateless persons be granted their rights to a national identity, in view of their appalling suffering and that of their families.
- Protecting the rights of disabled persons requires a decree from you. They are a section of society who deserve help and all possible material, scientific and moral support, and to be treated without discrimination so that they can feel more secure. This, too, is a matter of justice and equity.
- As a matter of justice and equity, bold steps should be taken to allow members of Saudi society to participate politically, elect their representatives to the Shura Council and Parliament and be involved in the running and development of their country.
- It would be fair and just to allow civil society to monitor the performance of government bodies and scrutinise expenditure. Civil society should be enabled to hold the corrupt and allegedly corrupt to account, and to work and employ people, build housing and provide medical treatment, and combat poverty and unemployment, under the canopy of an elected Parliament and elected Shura Council.
- It is only fair and just that there should be justice, equality and the rule of law, that no one should be immune from punishment, and that everyone should be subject to the rule of law.
- As a matter of justice and equity, there should be a separation of powers – legislative, executive and judiciary – and a move toward a state of rights and institutions.
- As a matter of justice and equity, there should be a new ministerial portfolio called the Ministry of Human Rights, with full delegated powers, as in all other advanced countries.
I would like to assure you of my earnest desire for reform in our beloved country, and that, should you adopt these proposals, it would increase your popularity among the men and women of the country, and represent a real shift toward reform. I ask God that I may find favour in your opinion, and that this letter will not be misunderstood or misinterpreted. I know that there are those who like to fish in murky waters and seek to create a rift between you and the genuine reformers who oppose corruption and the corrupt.
Peace be upon you, and God’s mercy and blessings.
Essa Hamad Mohammed al-Nukhaifi,
Prisoner of conscience,
Mecca General Penitentiary