A Saudi court on Thursday dismissed charges against 13 accused over a crane collapse that killed dozens at Islam’s holiest site, a newspaper reported on its website.
The prosecution objected to the ruling and asked to appeal, said the Okaz daily, which has closely followed the case.
The accused included at least one Saudi “billionaire” and nationals from Pakistan, the Philippines, Canada, and several Arab countries, Okaz and Saudi Gazette newspapers reported when the trial began in August.
Five months on, the criminal court in Makkah on Thursday said it did not have jurisdiction to hear cases involving “safety breaches”, Okaz reported.
There was no clarification why today’s report referred to 13 accused, while 14 have previously been mentioned.
They were charged with “negligence leading to death, damaging public property and ignoring safety guidelines” at the site of the Grand Mosque crane collapse in September 2015, Okaz and Saudi Gazette said.
During severe winds a construction crane toppled into a courtyard of the mosque.
It was one of several cranes the Saudi Binladin Group had employed as part of a multi-billion-dollar expansion to accommodate increasing numbers of faithful.
At least 109 people died, including foreign pilgrims, leading King Salman to suspend the firm for several months from new public contracts.
Okaz and Saudi Gazette reported last week that Judge Abdulaziz Hamoud al-Tuairki had rejected a plea from defence lawyers to prevent newspapers from covering the case.
He said they could appeal his ruling.
The court would in the next two weeks review the entire case, the newspapers said at the time.
Saudi Binladin Group, which developed landmark buildings in the kingdom, was founded more than 80 years ago by the father of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US Navy SEAL commandos.
Like other construction firms in the kingdom, Binladin Group suffered last year from delayed government receipts after a collapse in oil revenues left the kingdom unable to pay private firms.
The company last year said it had completed payment to 70,000 laid-off employees.
Workers still with the firm would get their back pay as the government settled its arrears, Binladin Group said. A company spokesman could not be immediately reached to comment on the court case.
‘Saudi writer jailed for seven years’
A Saudi writer has been sentenced to seven years in prison for offences including having contact with foreign journalists, a rights group said Thursday, part of what activists call “an intensified crackdown”.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights said Nadhir al-Majid, 40, received the sentence last week from the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh.
Rights monitors have criticised the practice of trying activists in such courts, which handle “terrorism” cases.
“Reports have confirmed that the writer was alone during the hearing and not accompanied by his family or his lawyer,” said the Gulf Centre, which has offices in Copenhagen and Beirut.
It said the prosecution filed many charges against Majid, including participating in demonstrations and “having contact with correspondents” of foreign media organisations.
Another watchdog, Human Rights Watch, in 2011 identified Majid as one of more than 160 dissidents arrested, mostly in Eastern Province where the Shiite minority had protested for political reforms and the release of prisoners.
He was freed in 2012, the Gulf Centre said.
In early January London-based Amnesty International said “a string of activists” had been detained or appeared in court over previous weeks in connection with peaceful human rights work.
“Saudi Arabia’s authorities have begun the year with an intensified crackdown against human rights activists”, it said.
On a visit to the kingdom last week, a United Nations independent expert called on Saudi Arabia to “liberalise” its approach to social media, where activists communicate.
Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said he received reports of “instances in which it has cracked down on certain people” communicating over the internet. -AFP