The authorities severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly and clamped down on dissent. Government critics and political activists were detained without trial or sentenced after grossly unfair trials. Women were discriminated against in law and practice and inadequately protected against domestic and other violence. Migrant workers were exploited and abused. Sentences of flogging were imposed and carried out. Hundreds of people were on death row at the end of the year; at least 79 people were executed.
In January, the head of the religious police said he would issue guidelines advising his forces that they are not empowered to arrest or interrogate Saudi Arabian citizens or to attend trials.
Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud became Crown Prince following the death of Prince Naif bin ‘Abdul Aziz Al Saud in June.
Also in June, the semi-official National Society for Human Rights published its third report on human rights and urged the government to end discrimination; to strengthen the regulatory powers of the Shura Council; to require arresting and detaining authorities to comply with the Code of Criminal Procedure and to hold to account those who do not comply.Top of page
The authorities continued to clamp down on people calling for political and other reform as well as human rights defenders and activists. Some were detained without charge or trial; others faced prosecution on vague charges such as “disobeying the ruler”.
A draft anti-terrorism law was reported to have been amended by the Shura Council but it had not been enacted by the end of the year.
The authorities continued to hold in incommunicado detention suspected members and supporters of al-Qa’ida and Islamist groups. Thousands of security suspects arrested in previous years were believed to be held in virtual secrecy with no means to challenge their continuing imprisonment and without access to lawyers or doctors. Some were not permitted to see or communicate with their families. The authorities said hundreds were put on trial but provided no details, leading to concerns that such trials were secret and unfair.
There were several protests by family members of security detainees. On 23 September, scores of people, including women and children, gathered in the desert near al-Tarfiya prison in Qassim Province to call for the release of their detained relatives. They were surrounded by security forces and forced to remain without food or water until the following day, when a number of men among the protesters were arrested, beaten and detained.
In October, the authorities said that anyone who demonstrated would face prosecution and be “firmly dealt with” by members of the security forces. Despite this, relatives of security detainees held a protest outside the Saudi Arabian Human Rights Commission in Riyadh. The security forces cordoned off the area and arrested at least 22 women, eight children and more than 20 men when they refused to disperse. One man was beaten and one woman kicked by security officials. Most were released after they agreed to sign undertakings not to protest again; however, some 15 men continued to be detained.Top of page
There were protests in Eastern Province by members of the minority Shi’a community, who alleged long-term discrimination on account of their faith. The security forces were alleged to have used excessive force at times against the protesters. Some 10 protesters were reportedly shot dead and others injured by security forces, during or in connection with the Eastern Province protests. The authorities said the deaths and injuries occurred when security forces were confronted by people with firearms or Molotov cocktails, but such incidents were not independently investigated. Some 155 men and 20 children were believed to be held without charge in connection with the protests at the end of the year.
Several men were reportedly sentenced to flogging for participating in the Eastern Province protests and others banned from travelling abroad. Shi’a clerics who publicly advocated reform or criticized the government were detained and in some cases charged with disobeying the ruler and other offences.
Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and sentenced prisoners were reported to be common, widespread and generally committed with impunity. Reported methods included beating, suspension by the limbs and sleep deprivation. Those tortured reportedly included detained protesters, who were held incommunicado for days or weeks without charge or trial.
Women continued to face discrimination in law and practice, and were inadequately protected against domestic and other gender-based violence.
For the first time, two Saudi Arabian women were permitted to participate in the Olympic Games, under conditions relating to the Islamic dress code and the presence of male guardians.
Women continued to be required by law to obtain the permission of a male guardian before getting married, travelling, undertaking paid employment or enrolling in higher education. Saudi Arabian women with foreign spouses, unlike their male counterparts, could not pass on their nationality to their children. Women continued to be prohibited from driving, although the “Women2Drive” campaign by local activists challenged the ban. Discriminatory rules relating to marriage and divorce appeared to cause some women to remain trapped in violent and abusive relationships.Top of page
Migrant workers, who comprised around a third of the population, were inadequately protected by labour laws and were vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by employers. Women domestic workers in particular were at risk of sexual violence and other abuses.Top of page
The courts continued to impose sentences of flogging as a principal or additional punishment for many offences. At least five defendants were sentenced to flogging of 1,000 to 2,500 lashes. Flogging was carried out in prisons.Top of page
The courts continued to impose death sentences for a range of drugs and other offences. Several hundred prisoners were believed to be on death row; some for many years. At least 79 prisoners were executed, mostly in public. They included at least 52 Saudi Arabians and at least 27 foreign nationals, including at least one woman. Some prisoners were executed for non-violent offences.