Over 100 suspects in security-related offences were detained in 2010. The legal status and conditions of imprisonment of thousands of security detainees arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy. At least two detainees died in custody, possibly as a result of torture, and new information came to light about methods of torture and other ill-treatment used against security detainees. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls remained subject to discrimination and violence, with some cases receiving wide media attention. Both Christians and Muslims were arrested for expressing their religious beliefs. Saudi Arabian forces involved in a conflict in northern Yemen carried out attacks that appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. Foreign migrant workers were exploited and abused by their employers. The authorities violated the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. At least 27 prisoners were executed, markedly fewer than in the two preceding years.
In February, the Minister of Justice said that Saudi Arabia aimed to build a justice system incorporating the best of other states’ judicial systems, inc11luding to provide an effective legal framework against terrorism and to allow women lawyers to represent clients in courts dealing with domestic disputes. However, at the end of 2010 the justice system remained largely secret. A fatwa (No. 239 of 12 April 2010), criminalizing the “financing of terrorism”, was issued by the Council of Senior ‘Ulema. It provided judges with discretion to impose any sentence, including the death penalty.
In May, the King ordered the formation of a committee to streamline procedures based on Shari’a (Islamic law) and to limit corporal punishment; this was expected to limit floggings to 100 lashes, so ending judges’ discretion that in some cases had led to sentences of tens of thousands of lashes. The reform had not been introduced by the end of 2010.Top of page
Over 100 people were detained for suspected security-related offences, and the legal status of thousands of others arrested in previous years remained unclear and secret.
At least 12 suspects detained in previous years were released in July apparently after the authorities decided that they no longer posed a threat after they attended a “rehabilitation programme”. Ten others, all reported to be former Guantánamo Bay detainees returned to Saudi Arabia by the US authorities, received suspended prison sentences in March ranging from 3 to 13 years and were banned from travelling outside Saudi Arabia for five years. No details were available about their trial or the charges they faced. Some 15 other Saudi Arabians remained in US detention at Guantánamo Bay.
In June, the Deputy Minister of Interior told Okaz newspaper that a large number of detainees were being tried and that each would “get what he deserves”, but gave no details. In September, press reports suggested that courts comprising three judges were being established to try defendants facing capital charges, while single-judge courts would try other defendants. The reports suggested that these courts were about to begin operation in Jeddah and then move to Riyadh. The first trial of 16 defendants opened in October in a prison in Jeddah; among the defendants were seven advocates of peaceful political reform who had been detained since February 2007. The trial was held in camera and the authorities did not disclose the precise charges; the defendants were not permitted access to lawyers.
Scores of Muslims and Christians were arrested in connection with their religious beliefs or expression of those beliefs. Members of the Shi’a Muslim community were targeted for holding collective prayer meetings, celebrating Shi’a religious festivals and on suspicion of breaching restrictions on building Shi’a mosques and religious schools.
The authorities maintained a high degree of secrecy about detainees and their detention conditions and treatment, but reports emerged of at least two deaths in custody, possibly as a result of torture or other ill-treatment.
A former detainee who had been held in Riyadh’s ‘Ulaysha prison as a security suspect in 2007 and 2008 told Amnesty International that he had been kept handcuffed and shackled for 27 days following his arrest before the handcuffs were removed and he was allowed to take a shower for the first time. He said that he had been interrogated during the night for more than a month and that this was routine for security suspects.Top of page
Corporal punishment, particularly flogging, was routinely imposed as a sentence by the courts and carried out as the main or as an additional punishment.
Women continued to face discrimination in law and in practice and to be subjected to domestic and other violence. The law does not give women equal status with men, and rules on male guardianship subordinate women to men in relation to marriage, divorce, child custody and freedom of movement. This leaves women vulnerable to violence within the home, which may be committed by men with impunity.
In November, Saudi Arabia was elected to the board of a new UN body established to promote women’s rights.Top of page
The sponsorship system governing employment of foreign nationals continued to expose them to exploitation and abuse by private and government employers, and allowed them little or no redress. Typical abuses included long working hours, non-payment of salaries, being refused permission to return home after completing their contracts and violence, particularly against women domestic workers.
In November 2009, Saudi Arabian forces became involved in the conflict between Yemeni government forces and Huthi rebels in the Sa’dah area of Yemen (see Yemen entry). Saudi Arabian forces clashed with armed Huthis and carried out air strikes against towns and villages in Sa’dah. Some of these attacks appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. They ceased when the Yemeni government and Huthi rebels agreed a ceasefire in February.Top of page
In June and July, the authorities forcibly returned some 2,000 Somali nationals to Somalia, despite the continuing armed conflict there and appeals from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. Most of those returned were women.
The recorded number of executions fell for a second year running. At least 27 people were executed, a marked reduction on the 69 recorded in 2009 and 102 recorded in 2008. Six foreign nationals were among those executed.
At least 140 prisoners were under sentence of death, including some sentenced for offences not involving violence, such as apostasy and sorcery.
In December, Saudi Arabia was one of the minority of states that voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.Top of page