Saudi Arabia: 10 things you need to know about a kingdom of cruelty


Following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains under the global spotlight.

On 19 June 2019, the UN’s the Special Rapporteur released a report which concluded that Khashoggi was the victim of “an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under human rights law,” and that “there is credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s”.

But Khashoggi’s killing is one chapter in a long line of violations to add to the Kingdom’s appalling human rights record.

1 - Devastating war in Yemen

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has contributed significantly to a war that has devastated Yemen for more than four years, killing thousands of civilians, including children, by bombing or shelling hospitals, schools and homes. Amnesty International has documented repeated violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. Despite this, countries including the US, UK and France continue to make lucrative arms deals with the Saudis.

2 - Relentless crackdown on peaceful activists, journalists and academics

Since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to power, many outspoken activists have been arrested or sentenced to lengthy prison terms simply for exercising peacefully their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The authorities have targeted the small but vocal community of human rights defenders, including by using anti-terrorism and anti-cyber crime laws to suppress their peaceful activism in exposing and addressing human rights violations.

3 - Arrests of women’s rights defenders

In May 2018, a number of prominent women’s rights defenders were arrested in Saudi’s ongoing crackdown on the human rights community. Following their arrests, the government launched a chilling smear campaign to discredit them as “traitors”. They are still facing trial and risk a lengthy prison sentence.

4 - Executions

Saudi Arabia is consistently amongst the world’s top executioners, with dozens of people being put to death annually, many in gruesome public beheadings. We consider that the death penalty violates the right to life and is cruel, inhuman and degrading. Moreover, there is no evidence anywhere in the world that the death penalty deters crime, yet Saudi Arabia continues to sentence people to death and execute them following grossly unfair trials. So far in 2019, Saudi Arabia has executed 104 individuals, including 37 in one day alone in April.

5 - Punishments that are cruel, inhuman or degrading

Saudi Arabia’s courts continue to impose sentences of flogging as punishment for many offences, often following unfair trials. Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison simply for writing a blog. Amputations and cross-amputations, which invariably constitute torture, are also carried out as punishment for some crimes.

6 - Routine torture in custody

Former detainees, trial defendants and others have told Amnesty International that the security forces’ use of torture and other ill-treatment remains common and widespread, and that those responsible are never brought to justice.

7 - Systematic discrimination against women

Women and girls still face entrenched discrimination in Saudi Arabia, and are legally subordinate to men in relation to marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance and other aspects. Under the guardianship system, a woman cannot make decisions on their own; instead, a male relative must decide everything on her behalf.

8 - Entrenched religious discrimination

Members of the Kingdom’s Shi’a minority continue to face entrenched discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Scores of Shi’a activists have been sentenced to death or long prison terms for their alleged participation in anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012.

9 - ‘What happens in the Kingdom, stays in the Kingdom’

The Saudi Arabian authorities have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against peaceful activists and family members of victims who contact independent human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, or foreign diplomats and journalists.

10 - Jamal Khashoggi’s murder

Following Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific killing, Amnesty International is calling for the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish a UN independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi's extrajudicial execution, possible torture and any other crimes and violations committed in his case. Following the release of the UN report on the killing of Khashoggi, Amnesty International also calls for independent criminal investigation to uncover the truth.