H.R.H. Prince Khaled bin Faisal bin Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa’ud Governor
Mekka Region

Your Royal Highness,

We write to you to request that you order the immediate release of Tariq Yunis Akram Mashharawi, currently imprisoned in Buraiman prison, Jeddah.

Tariq Yunis Akram Yunis is a Jordanian citizen.

Yunis’s continued imprisonment violates international law prohibiting the imprisonment of persons unable to pay a debt arising from a contractual obligation. The Saudi judge in his case also violated Saudi law specifying that verdicts must be provided to the parties in a court case. Furthermore, unsanitary conditions in Buraiman present a danger to Mr. Yunis’ health.

Tariq Yunis had lived all of his life in Jeddah until leaving the country eight years ago. At the time of leaving Saudi Arabia, he worked as a salesman for Nayif Adnan Hassan Sharbatli’s luxury cars showroom. Sharbatli is now a British citizen residing in the UK, against whom Saudi courts have issued verdicts for wrongfully taking the money of Saudi citizens.

In late December 2006, Emirati officials apprehended Mr. Yunis in Dubai following an Interpol request. He was extradited from Abu Dhabi to Riyadh on January 16, 2007, before being transferred to Jeddah. At Jeddah’s Salama police station, officers confronted him with people who they said had filed a claim against Yunis leading to his arrest. According to Mr Yunis these persons had physically assaulted and threatened him eight years earlier in a dispute over money between them and his employer, Mr. Sharbatli, leading Yunis
to leave the country and go to Jordan. At the confrontation, however, these persons denied having sought Yunis’ extradition and said that since their dispute with Yunis and Sharbatli eight years earlier, they had won a court case against Mr. Sharbatli. Prosecutors confirmed to Yunis that there was no apparent basis for his arrest, and that he wasnot involved in an ongoing criminal prosecution against Mr. Sharbatli. The Salama police chief informed Yunis he would be processed for deportation and sent him to jail on February 12, 2007. Apparently his detention at that time was due to his pending deportation.

Yunis was not deported, however, but four months later brought to Judge Sa’ud al-Bushi of the Partial Court who formally stopped the criminal prosecution for embezzlement and fraud at a summary hearing Yunis attended. Judge al-Bushi did not provide a copy of his ruling to Yunis, but forwarded the case to the Court of Cassation, which approved the verdict, and sent it to the governorate for execution. Two months later, around August 2007, Yunis hired lawyer Wa’il al-Sa’idi, who confirmed with the prison authorities and the prosecution department that there was no ongoing prosecution against Yunis. The prison refused to release him, however, as there was no order for release.

Around early July 2007 at a hearing in front of Judge Salih al-Zaidi of Jeddah’s Greater Court, the lawyer for the group of plaintiffs affirmed that his clients were seeking no compensation or damages from Yunis and Judge al-Zaidi closed the civil case, too. Nevertheless, the authorities did not release or deport Yunis.

Instead, a new and unrelated civil case was brought against Yunis. Abdullah Salami, an agent for Princess Basma bint Sa'ud bin Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud, visited Yunis in prison around August 2007 demanding SAR3 million from him. Abdullah Salami also called relatives of Yunis in Jordan demanding first that they send him SAR3 million, then reduced his demands to a fraction of the money. Salami then brought a case against Yusuf in the name of the princess.

Eight years earlier, another agent for the princess, al-Sharif Shuja' bin Nami, had written four cheques for around SAR700,000 to SAR800,000 each. These cheques were intended for Nayef Sharbatli, but made out to Tariq Yunis. Yunis said Sharbatli ordered him to record “investment in cars” on the receipts for the cheques, and that he handed the money to Sharbatli after cashing them. He said he had a strange feeling, because at the first branch of the Saudi-British Bank, the employee refused to cash the cheque claiming the princess’s signature did not match the signature on file. After checking with the agent, Yunis said bin Nami told him to ask for the operations manager at a different branch, who promptly paid.

In early November 2007, Yunis had his first court date in the new civil case in front of Judge Suwai’id al-Harbi of Jeddah’s Greater Court, but his lawyer, Wa’il al-Sa’idi, was not allowed to represented him. Yunis attended a third court session, in which the judge said he would send the four cheques made out to Yunis by the princess to Saudi Arabia’s Central Bank to clarify if they had been cashed. Yunis admitted he had cashed them and handed the money to Sharbatli. Judge al-Harbi then ruled in mid-December 2007 that Yunis owed SAR2,492,500 to the princess, but did not provide any supporting evidence for the claim. Yunis appealed.

In early April 2008, Yunis’ lawyer went back to court, where the judge informed him that the appeals court on March 20, 2008 had overturned the earlier verdict, but refused to provide a written copy of the verdict. Yunis’ lawyer then requested, but the judge denied, bail, despite the fact that Yunis later provided a written personal guarantee by the Mitsubishi Electrical Company, authenticated by the local Chamber of Commerce, guaranteeing that he would attend any future trial session and that the company would settle any final debt Yunis owed and was unable to pay himself.

It is clear from these facts that Yunis was originally arrested and extradited in error. It is further evident that Yunis is currently in prison based solely on his alleged debt to Princess Basma, and not due to the violation of any criminal law or court order. As such, his imprisonment violates international law, stipulating that “No one who is shown to be unable to pay a debt arising from a contractual obligation shall be imprisoned.” (Article 18, Arab Charter for Human Rights), which the Shura Council ratified in March 2008. This prohibition is also set out in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “No one shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfill a contractual obligation.” Although Saudi Arabia has not ratified this Covenant, this provision is one of the few that is clearly stated to be non-derogable in any circumstances). Last, the refusal of the judge to provide written copies of the initial verdict or of the appeals court’s verdict is in violation of Articles 164 and 167 of the Law of Shari’a Court Regulations.

We are also concerned that Mr. Yunis’ stay in Buraiman prison will have further negative effects on his health. Mr. Yunis has only one kidney and requires medication not always available in prison. Although the prison doctor ordered a check-up of Mr. Yunis’ kidney functions, he has been unable to obtain a hospital appointment while inprison. Mr. Yunis was hospitalized for chicken pox while in prison in late 2007 and his kidney situation worsened at the time.

Recently, wards at Buraiman have been even more overcrowded than usual because construction work closed down some wards, with prisoners sleeping in corridors and under beds. The ventilation is also reportedly broken, making the wards a breeding area for disease. Several prisoners have already died from disease, one person only two months ago. In 2007, several persons died from tuberculosis, Human Rights Watch reported. The National Society for Human Rights has also criticized health conditions in the prison. The news media in May reported that a quarantine section for tuberculosis patients at Buraiman was still under construction.

Your Royal Highness, Tariq Yunis’s case is not concluded, so it has not yet been finally determined if he owes anyone any money, let alone his willingness to pay. His parents, wife and children are currently in Jordan, deprived of the family income while Mr. Yunis is in detention. The continued and unnecessary deprivation of Mr. Yunis’s liberty prevents him from providing for them. Under international human rights law detention outside of criminal proceedings is only permitted in very narrow circumstances, and this is not one of them. Mr Yunis has not been accused of violating any court order. Human Rights Watch recently documented arbitrary arrests and unfair trials in Saudi courts, belying the spirit of judicial reform announced by King Abdullah in October 2007.

We urge you to order Mr. Yunis’ release to comply with international human rights

Yours sincerely,

Christoph Wilcke
Human Rights Watch