Amnesty in new report says Specialized Criminal Court used as ‘an instrument of repression’ against critics.

Saudi Arabia has used a terrorism tribunal as a political tool to silence critics and rights defenders, despite reforms introduced by the kingdom in recent years, a new report has found.

The human rights watchdog Amnesty International concluded in its report published on Thursday that the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh was being routinely used to silence dissent and criticism in the kingdom.

In its report, Amnesty said the SCC, established in 2008 for terror-related crimes, was used as “an instrument of repression” as several journalists, activists, writers and religious leaders are facing trials under the anti-terror and anti-cybercrime laws.

Some 95 individuals, the vast majority of them men, were tried before the SCC between 2011 and 2019, according to the London-based group.

Eleven are currently facing trials at the SCC and some 52 others were serving prison terms of between five and 30 years imposed by the same court.

“The Saudi Arabian government exploits the SCC to create a false aura of legality around its abuse of the counter-terror law to silence its critics,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional director.

Amnesty urged Riyadh to “release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally” and to end violations at SCC trials.

In the report titled Muzzling critical voices: Politicised trials before Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court, Amnesty said the cases it reviewed were “grossly unfair” and that the charges included “disobeying the ruler” or “inciting disorder by calling for demonstrations”.

Saudi Arabia implemented a series of social and economic reforms, championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), including giving women the right to drive and opening up the conservative kingdom for entertainment and tourism.

The reforms have, however, been accompanied by a deepening crackdown on government critics, including the detention of high-profile women’s rights activists including Loujain al-Halthloul, and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.