RIYADH — The Saudi oversight and investigation authorities must conceal the identity of whistleblowers, witnesses, experts and victims in all the documents and records related to the crime, according to a new law. The Saudi Council of Ministers on Feb. 13 approved the Law for the Protection of Whistleblowers, Witnesses, Experts and Victims.

The Umm Al-Qura newspaper, Saudi Arabia’s official gazette, published details of the law on Friday. The milestone law is aimed at providing security to individuals who may come under threat for giving evidence in court cases. The law gives powers to judicial authorities to provide the necessary protection to witnesses, victims, whistleblowers, experts and members of their families from any threat including assault, revenge, intimidation and others. The law contributes to combating crimes by encouraging and facilitating information sharing and providing protection to informants, witnesses, experts and victims from any attacks or threats, material or moral harm, or anything that may adversely affect the delivery of such information.

According to the gazette, article 1 of the law stipulates that oversight, control, and investigation authorities in crimes covered by the provisions of the law must conceal the identity and address of the whistleblower, witness, expert, or even the victim, in correspondence, records, and all documents, when necessary or upon their request, in a manner that makes unknown their identity to anyone. It stressed need for oversight authorities to cooperate to ensure that witnesses perform their testimonies without influence or delay. It also underlined the need for the court to take whatever special measures it deems appropriate during litigation procedures to protect the whistleblower, witness, expert, or victim in the event of any chance for any of them may be exposed to danger.

The provisions of the law stressed the necessity to prevent the witness or expert from being seen while he is attending the court to testify or present his expertise, or even while entering or leaving the court. The law seeks to protect them even while using technical means such as visual and audio communication while giving testimony remotely. When necessary, it may use sound and image changing technology to protect those covered by the law, in addition to seeking assistance from the Program Department to Enforce the Measures.

There is a provision in the law that the court, when necessary, must hear the testimony of witnesses and discuss with experts any of the crimes covered by the provisions of the law in isolation from the accused and his lawyer, while the accused or his lawyer is informed of what is contained in the testimony and expert report without revealing the identity of those who provided them. It specifies a list of cases where the provisions of this paragraph must be applied.

The law permits the disclosure of the identity of the person under protection if the court deems that revealing his identity is necessary to exercise the right of defense, and at the same time the witness testimony or expert statement is the only means of proof in the case. This is with the condition that the necessary types of protection as stipulated in article 14 of the law will be provided and this is after coordination with the Program Department.

On the other hand, the court, when necessary, can hide the names of witnesses in the judicial ruling document, as indicated by the law, while the regulations specify cases of concealment. According to the law, a special program shall be established at the Public Prosecution called the “Protection Program for Whistle-blowers, Witnesses, Experts, and Victims.” The regulations specify the program’s organizational structure, management, and tasks, as well as the powers assigned to it, and the mechanism for handling it.

The Program Department, in accordance with the provisions of the law, has the authority to accept whistle-blowers, witnesses, experts and victims into the program and determine the type and duration of protection provided to them, while article 6 of the law indicates the approval of the Public Prosecutor, based on a recommendation from the Program Department and in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, to the requests of the competent foreign authorities that it is received by the Permanent Committee for Legal Assistance Requests at the Ministry of Interior regarding providing protection to any whistleblower, witness, expert or victim in the Kingdom’s territory in accordance with the provisions of the law.

According to Article 8 of the law; if there is a reason to believe that the whistle-blower, witness, expert, or victim may be exposed to imminent danger, the Public Prosecutor may provide him with protection without his consent for a period not exceeding 30 days. The Public Prosecutor may, when necessary, increase this period, and he may, by written decision, delegate some of his powers to the heads of the branches of the Public Prosecution.

Article 9 of the law stipulates that the whistleblower, witness, expert, or victim shall not be accepted into the program unless acceptance is based on the following: and a reasoned request from any of them to provide protection; a recommendation from the supervisory authority, the control authority, the evidence authority, or even the investigation authority or from the court based on the available information about the justifications for providing protection.

In the event that the protection request is approved, the Program Department, as per the provision of the in article 10, shall determine the necessary protection procedures and mechanisms and its duration, and also shall notify the entity submitting the request and the person to be protected of the approval within three days from the date of submitting the request.

If the protection request is rejected, the Department shall notify the entity submitting the application and the person to be protected of the rejection within three days from the date of submitting the application, while the details of the article indicate the necessity of providing reasons for rejection.

The entity submitting the protection request or the person to be protected may also file a grievance directly to the Public Prosecutor. The Public Prosecutor must decide on the grievance within ten days from the date of its submission, and his decision in this regard shall be final and irrevocable and that cannot be challenged in any judicial authority.

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