Letter to King Abdullah bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Sa’ud
October 10, 2006

We write to you regarding Hadi bin Sa’id bin Hamad Al Mutif, a Saudi citizen, who was sentenced to death in 1996 after he was convicted of allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad in December 1993.

October 10, 2006

King Abdullah bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Sa’ud
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
Royal Court
Riyadh
Saudi Arabia 11111

Your Royal Highness:

We write to you regarding Hadi bin Sa’id bin Hamad Al Mutif, a Saudi citizen, who was sentenced to death in 1996 after he was convicted of allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad in December 1993.

We are particularly concerned because it is apparent that the judges in the case held a deep bias against Al Mutif because he follows the Sulaimani Isma’ili creed. As a result, Hadi Al Mutif did not receive a fair trial. The judges of the Najran General Court, the Appeals Court in Mekka, and the Supreme Judicial Council displayed bias and prejudice against Isma’ilis and the Isma’ili creed in all the proceedings against Al Mutif.

Throughout the trial basic rules of due process and fairness were not observed, rendering the conviction gravely unsound and unreliable. For this reason we call on you to pardon Hadi Al Mutif without delay and to ensure he is free to leave Najran Public Prison.

Al Mutif’s alleged crime was to have insulted the Prophet during communal prayers at a military training site in Najran city, where he was a recruit, in late December 1993. Arriving late to the prayers on this occasion, he asked fellow recruits to make space for him and allegedly uttered an insulting phrase when they did not allow him to join their ranks.

According to Al Mutif, who described his ordeal to Human Rights Watch in a July 18 telephone conversation from his prison cell, his superiors used disparaging comments about his Isma’ili creed while first questioning him about his alleged remarks, before handing him over to the local mabahith, the secret police. He said that mabahith officers deprived him of sleep, beat him, and sexually threatened him during his 18 days of interrogation and detention there.

Hadi Al Mutif’s initial trial and subsequent appeals and reviews violated numerous international fair trial standards. At various points, the judges did not allow Al Mutif to properly prepare his defense; they denied him the right to legal representation; they did not allow Al Mutif to cross-examine the witnesses against him; they closed the trial to the public without good cause; they did not investigate allegations of torture and they did not assess Al Mutif’s fitness to stand trial.

Muhammad Ahmad al-‘Askari, the chief judge in Najran General Court, arraigned Al Mutif on the formal charge of “insulting the Prophet” (sabb al-rasul) and authenticated witness statements for later admission as evidence at trial approximately six weeks after the alleged crime took place. Al Mutif told Human Rights Watch that Judge al-‘Askari did not ask him how he wanted to plead, but said to him, “Don’t deny it. If you do, you will go back to the mabahith for further interrogation,” even after Al Mutif had told the judge that he had “hallucinations” from the torture he had endured at the hands of the mabahith jailers.

Al Mutif’s trial, which was closed to the public, began around two years after the arraignment, a friend who recently spoke with the family told Human Rights Watch and lasted six sessions. Al Mutif told Human Rights Watch that in the first session, when he heatedly challenged the testimony of one of the witnesses, a police officer smashed his head into a window in the presence of the judge. Al Mutif maintained throughout that he never uttered words insulting to the Prophet. He said that at the next session, the judge “questioned whether I was a Muslim because I follow the Isma’ili sect. They spoke to me as though I was not a Muslim and asked ‘How many prayers are there in a day?’ and made me pray in front of them.” At the end of the six sessions, the judge sentenced Al Mutif to death.

Throughout the trial sessions the court refused Al Mutif‘s demand for legal counsel. At its conclusion, the judge did not issue his verdict in writing. (Saudi Arabia’s Code of Criminal Procedure, issued in 2002, now requires defendants to obtain a copy of the judgment).

Al Mutif told Human Rights Watch that when he appealed the verdict, Shaikh Abdullah al-Muni’, Chief Judge of Mekka’s Appeals Court, said of Isma’ilis, “You are a corrupt minority, you don’t belong to Islam in any form, you have no creed or religion.” Al-Muni’s court upheld the death sentence.

The High Judicial Council, in Riyadh, must confirm all death sentences. Two years after the initial verdict, Shaikh Salih al-Luhaidan, the head of the Council, decided that “death was the only possible punishment for this crime,” according to a friend of the family who has followed the case.

Your Highness, we understand that in 1999 you did not confirm the death sentence, as required under Saudi law, but instead secured an extraordinary special review process for Al Mutif’s case following repeated interventions by Al Mutif’s family. This process comprised of judicial, administrative and forensic committees and included a six-month psychiatric evaluation in a forensic institution in al-Ta’if. The doctors there attested that Hadi Al Mutif suffered from childhood trauma and concluded that he was “not responsible for his actions” at the time of the incident. Ignoring this expert opinion, the judicial committee, which had the power to make a final decision, in 2001 decided that “whether responsible or not, you have to be made an example for others,” and upheld the verdict, according to Al Mutif, who said he was present at the time of their determination.

According to Hadi Al Mutif’s father, Sa’id Al Mutif, he met Your Highness in March 2006 together with Shaikh Muhammad Al Munif and Shaikh Hamad Al Khasha from Najran. Sa’id Al Mutif told Human Rights Watch that in that audience, you expressed your desire to pardon Hadi Al Mutif and phoned your adviser by the name of al-Shitri to convey the news of Al Mutif’s pardon.

Your Highness, six months later Hadi Al Mutif remains in Najran Public Prison. On September 5 he began a hunger strike, but broke it off on September 13 after having collapsed two days earlier.

We call on you take urgent steps to implement your pardon of Hadi Al Mutif. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director
Middle East & North Africa Division