Saudi Arabia was elected to a seat on the new UN Human Rights Council in May.
About 2,000 demonstrators in various cities protested against the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in July and August. Several people were arrested but all were believed to have been released without charge.
Some of 300 members of the Ismaili Shi'a community were briefly arrested in September when they held a protest in Nijran against the continuing detention of other Ismailis, who had been detained in connection with demonstrations and clashes in April 2000. Following this, some of the remaining Ismaili prisoners were released, but others were still believed to be held at the end of 2006.
Abuses in the context of the 'war on terror'
The government continued to pursue its stated policy of fighting terrorism, often paying little regard to international law.
Clashes between security forces and armed groups continued in various parts of the country, including Abqiq, Riyadh and Jeddah. At least five men on the government's list of suspected al-Qa'ida militants were reportedly killed in a rest house in February during clashes with security forces in al-Yarmuk district, Riyadh.
The Minister of Interior announced in April that a State Security Court would be introduced to investigate and try alleged terror suspects and supporters of terrorism but it was not clear whether this had been established by the end of 2006. In June the King said that those who handed themselves in to the authorities would benefit from an amnesty and be pardoned for their actions.
Scores of people suspected of links to al-Qa'ida were arrested. At least 100, including foreign nationals, were reportedly arrested in March, June and August alone in Mecca, Madinah and Riyadh.
The authorities did not disclose the names, legal status or other details of those arrested in 2006 and in previous years, and it was not known whether any of them were charged or brought to trial.
• Fouad Hakim, who was reportedly arrested in December 2004 for suspected links to an "extremist organization", was believed to have been detained without charge or trial, and without access to a lawyer until he was released from al-Ruwais prison, Jeddah, in November.
• Muhiddin Mugne Haji Mascat, a Somali national, was detained in al-Ha'ir prison in Riyadh. A doctor, he was arrested in November 2005 for allegedly providing medical treatment to a security suspect. He was released without charge in April.
• Two men arrested in November 2005 ? Abdel Hakim Mohammed Jellaini, a British national arrested while on a business trip to Mecca and accused of giving financial assistance to an "extremist organization", and Abdullah Hassan, a Libyan national ? were released without charge in July. However, their passports were withheld and they were not permitted to leave Saudi Arabia. Abdel Hakim Mohammed Jellaini had reportedly been beaten and denied food during part of his detention.
The Minister of Interior reportedly announced in April that thousands of detainees had been released, including 700 men linked to al-Qa'ida who the authorities had "involved in a programme aimed at correcting their extremist views". He did not disclose when or over what period these releases had occurred.
Guantánamo Bay detainees
At least two dozen Saudi Arabian nationals and an ethnic Uighur who had been detained by US forces in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were repatriated to Saudi Arabia in May and June. They were detained upon arrival and held at al-Ha'ir prison. There were fears that Siddeq Ahmad Siddeq Nour Turkistani, the Uighur, would be at risk of torture or execution if he were to be removed to China; he was still believed to be in Saudi Arabia at the end of 2006. The Saudi Arabian authorities said that the Investigation and Public Prosecution Commission would review the cases of the returned detainees, and at least 12 of them were released in May and August. Some were said to have been released for lack of evidence of any offence; others were sentenced to one-year prison terms for document forgery.
Political prisoners and possible prisoners of conscience
Critics of the government were subjected to detention without charge or trial, often for prolonged periods, before being tried or released.
• Dr Shaim al-Hamazani, Jamal al-Qosseibi, Hamad al-Salihi and 'Abdullah al-Magidi were tried in September, having reportedly been detained without charge or access to lawyers at al-Ha'ir prison for almost two years. They were arrested in 2004 after they called for political and judicial reform and the release of political prisoners. They were sentenced to prison terms of between one and a half and three and a half years. Dr Shaim al-Hamazani was released in October, having completed the requisite period in prison, but continued to be banned from travelling abroad.
• Hind Sa'id Bin Zu'air was detained in August, together with her 10-month-old baby, and held for a week before being released uncharged, apparently because her father, Dr Sa'id Bin Zu'air, has been critical of government policies pursued in the context of the "war on terror".
• Twenty men, who were among 250 people reportedly arrested for attending a private social gathering in al-'Ashamia area in Jizan in August, appeared to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for their actual or perceived sexual orientation. They continued to be detained without charge or trial at the end of the year; others held at the same time were released uncharged.
• A possible prisoner of conscience, Kamil 'Abbas al-Ahmad, was released in September from the General Intelligence Office (al-Mabahith al-'Amma) in al-Dammam. He had been detained since August 2003 for undisclosed reasons, apparently connected to his Shi'a religious beliefs.
Freedom of expression
Despite greater press freedom in recent years, writers and journalists who called for reform were subject to short-term arrests, travel bans or censorship. Some also faced harassment by private individuals aligned to conservative sectors of society.
• In February the daily Shams newspaper was suspended for six weeks after it re-published the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as part of its campaign to urge actions against the cartoons.
• In March Mohsen al-Awaji was reportedly arrested after he published articles on the Internet criticizing the authorities and calling for an end to censorship of websites. He was released without charge after eight days.
• Hamza al-Muzaini, an academic who allegedly criticized a cleric in an article, was fined in May by the Ministry of Information. He was physically attacked and branded an "infidel" in September by a group of young men as he gave a speech on reform of the school curriculum.
• In October a court dismissed a case against Raja al-Sanei', author of a book about the lives of young Saudi Arabian women. She had been accused of defaming Saudi Arabian society and misinterpreting verses of the Qur'an. The Ministry of Culture and Information did not permit her book or some 20 others to be featured at the Riyadh International Book Fair, because they were considered defamatory to Saudi Arabia and Islam.
Scores of people, including pro-reform figures, were subjected to travel bans after their release from detention. Dr Matrouk al-Falih and Muhammad Sa'eed Tayyeb, who were arrested in 2004 for calling for reform, reportedly remained subject to restrictions on their freedom of expression and movement imposed when they were released in August 2005, and March 2004, respectively. Muhammad Sa'eed Tayyeb was reportedly required to sign a statement at the time of his release that he would not again call for political reform.
• Sa'ad Bin Sa'id Bin Zu'air and his brother, Mubarak Bin Sa'id Bin Zu'air, and their father, Dr Sa'id Bin Zu'air, were reportedly subject to censorship and banned from travelling. Sa'ad Bin Sa'id Bin Zu'air was also detained without charge or trial from June to August, during which he was held incommunicado in 'Ulaisha prison, Riyadh, after he was interviewed on the satellite TV station, Al-Jazeera.
Women continued to face pervasive discrimination, in particular severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. Domestic violence remained widespread; the Saudi Arabian Human Rights Society reported that it had received reports of hundreds of cases of domestic violence. In May it was reported that King Abdullah had ordered that a new court be established which would specialize in hearing domestic violence cases, but it was not clear how far this had progressed by the end of the year.
Women activists continued to lobby for their rights. Following her release, Wajeha Al-Huwaider, who was briefly arrested in August 2005 for carrying a placard urging King Abdullah to grant more rights to women, vowed to carry on her activities.
In February the Shura (Consultative Council) rejected a private member's bill to lift the ban on women driving motor vehicles. In June the authorities appointed six women as consultants to the Shura to advise on issues affecting women.
The Ministry of Labour's plans to increase the number of Saudi Arabian women in employment suffered a setback. It postponed the implementation of a decision that only women could be employed in lingerie shops after shop owners proved unable to comply.
Abulgasim Ahmed Abulgasim, a political opponent of the Sudanese government and member of an armed political group in Darfur, was arrested by Saudi Arabian security forces on 26 September at his home in Jeddah where he had lived for over 20 years. He was apparently arrested because of a speech he gave at the Sudanese Embassy in which he criticized the Sudanese government. He was deported to Sudan, where he was arrested immediately and held incommunicado, on 28 September.
Migrant workers were subject to abuses by state authorities and by private employers. Abuses by state authorities included detention without charge or trial, and abuses by employers included physical and psychological ill-treatment and non-payment of salaries.
• Isma'il 'Abdul Sattar, a Pakistani national, reportedly remained in detention without charge or trial at al-Ruwais prison, Jeddah, having been arrested 10 years previously following a police raid on the company where he worked.
• Nour Miyati, an Indonesian domestic worker, who was severely injured by her employer and then sentenced to 79 lashes by a court in Riyadh for accusing him of abuse, had her sentence overturned on appeal.
Torture and ill-treatment
There were reports of torture in custody. Sentences of flogging, a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment which may amount to torture, continued to be routinely imposed by the courts. Those sentenced to floggings included young men and children accused by the Committee for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue of harassing women. The government was reported in May to have instructed the Committee to refer cases of harassment of women to the prosecuting authorities.
• Ma'idh Al-Saleem was released in November following a pardon by the King. He was reported to have been arrested in 2001, aged 16, and to have been tortured for several days until he "confessed" to making "verbal comments contrary to Shar'ia". He was sentenced to death but this was later reduced on appeal to 14 years' imprisonment and 4,000 lashes, to which he was subjected in repeated sessions of 50 lashes at a time.
• Nabil Al-Randan was reported to have fled Saudi Arabia when, in April, the Court of Cassation upheld a sentence of 90 lashes for "immoral behaviour" after he appointed two women to work in a restaurant he owned.
• Puthen Veetil Abdul Latheef Noushad, an Indian national who was sentenced to have an eye removed in December 2005, was pardoned by the man he was said to have partially blinded in a dispute and released on 5 April.
At least 39 people were executed. The authorities did not disclose the number of people sentenced to death. Many defendants complained that they were not represented by lawyers and were not informed of the progress of their trial.
• Suliamon Olyfemi, a Nigerian, remained under sentence of death. He had been convicted of murder after a trial in 2004 which was conducted in Arabic, a language which he did not understand, without the assistance of an interpreter. He was reportedly tortured or ill-treated in pre-trial detention and denied access to legal representation or adequate consular assistance.
• Majda Mostafa Mahir, a Moroccan national who was sentenced to death after an unfair trial in 1997, and whose death sentence was annulled after the victim's family requested a revocation of the sentence, was released on 12 November and returned to Morocco. In April, the Secretary of the Crown Prince had reportedly visited her in Briman prison, Jeddah.
• Hadi Sa'eed Al-Muteef, who was sentenced to death for making "verbal comments contrary to Shar'ia" in 2001, had his sentence commuted to a prison term. He was reportedly denied access to a lawyer, and not informed of proceedings against him or appeal processes.
Saudi Arabia assured the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in January that it had not carried out any executions of child offenders since the Convention on the Rights of the Child came into force in Saudi Arabia in 1996. However, child offenders continued to be sentenced to death.
• Five teenagers were reported in August to have been sentenced to death by a lower court in Madinah, in connection with the murder of a 10-year-old boy in 2004.
AI country reports/visits
• Saudi Arabia: Government must take urgent action to abolish the death penalty for child offenders (AI Index: MDE 23/001/2006)