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Australian government urged to press Saudis to reveal whereabouts of extradited citizen

The Guardian - Tue May 4 09:33

Saudi Arabian authorities must urgently reveal the location of the Australian citizen who was extradited to the country, human rights advocates say, amid fresh doubts over the alleged criminal case against him.

Osama al-Hasani, 42, was transferred from Morocco to Saudi Arabia at 2.45am on 13 March, just hours after United Nations officials sent an urgent letter asking authorities not to deport him over fears he would face torture there, according to Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch called on the Australian government on Tuesday to press the Saudi government to immediately disclose the whereabouts of al-Hasani and pursue his rights to due process and a fair trial.

The organisation said it had reviewed the Saudi extradition request, which was dated 11 February, or three days after his arrest in Morocco, and it “states that he is wanted for conspiring with others to steal a number of Range Rovers from a car dealership in February 2015” with such charges carrying a potential penalty of two years in prison.

Human Rights Watch said it had also reviewed a 2018 Saudi lower court trial judgment in the case, which named six co-defendants, while al-Hasani – who was not in the country at the time of the trial – was labelled by prosecutors as a co-conspirator throughout the trial.

“In its ruling, the court stated that there was no evidence to convict the six co-defendants, but it nevertheless sentenced all of them to three months in prison in a discretionary ruling, which the Saudi legal system allows,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“A September 2019 affidavit from the Justice Ministry, however, noted that following the lower court ruling and appeals ruling, all six co-defendants, as well as al-Hasani, had been cleared of all wrongdoing in the case due to lack of evidence presented by prosecutors.

“The affidavit stated that the court saw ‘no reason for the continuation of the search for him, the tracking of his arrival, the arrest warrant, stopping his [government] services, the international extradition request against him, and all criminal procedures against him in this case …’”

The deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, Michael Page, blasted authorities in both Morocco and Saudi Arabia over their handling of the case.

“Trying al-Hasani on charges for which he was previously cleared would be yet another shameless example of the Saudi judiciary’s lack of independence and due process,” Page said on Tuesday.

“The Moroccan authorities’ dismissal of al-Hasani’s justified fear of ill-treatment and unfair trial upon return makes a mockery of their international human rights obligations.”

Guardian Australia has sought comment from the governments of both Saudi Arabia and Morocco, via their embassies in Canberra.

International lawyers acting for al-Hasani, 42, have previously raised “credible concerns” that he was being targeted by the Saudi Arabian government for his political opinions.

Al-Hasani – a dual Australian and Saudi citizen – was detained shortly after he arrived in Morocco on 8 February. His wife, Hana al-Hasani, lives in Morocco with their baby.

She told Guardian Australia in March: “The fact that he will be extradited to Saudi Arabia means simply that he is going to be tortured and maybe worse than that, things I don’t want to think about right now.”

Human Rights Watch said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had sent Moroccan authorities a letter on 12 March urging them not to deport al-Hasani over fears that he could face torture in Saudi Arabia.

But it said Morocco’s mission in Geneva responded the following day to say authorities had already extradited him to Saudi Arabia at 2.45am on 13 March “before the competent Moroccan authorities were able to process” that request.

In a statement first reported by the ABC, Page also called on Saudi Arabia to reform its criminal justice system to comply with human rights norms.

Until that point, he said, “the likelihood is that those who fall afoul of the law will be mistreated”.

“Other countries should not forcibly return people who would most likely face an unfair trial and other abuses in Saudi Arabia,” Page said.

Comment has been sought from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Dfat), which has previously raised concerns over the case.

Lynette Wood, a first assistant secretary at Dfat, told Senate estimates in March that the Australian government was “concerned about the circumstances of Mr al-Hasani’s detention, his access to due process of law, and the extradition proceedings that led to his extradition to Saudi Arabia”.

Wood said Moroccan authorities had confirmed to Australia that the extradition had taken place three days earlier, “which we had some concerns about”.

“Australian officials in Canberra, Rabat and Riyadh have been active on this case, making representations to ascertain the circumstances of Mr al-Hasani’s detention, both in Morocco and now in Saudi Arabia,” she said in March.

“We have repeatedly expressed our concerns for his welfare; we’ll continue to advocate for his interests and provide consular assistance to him and his family.”