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Amnesty International, Annual Report 2000 on Saudi Arabia
by Amnesty International
Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000 03:05 pm CST

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Head of state and government: King Fahd bin 'Abdul-'Aziz Capital: Riyadh
Population: 19 million
Official language: Arabic
Death penalty: retentionist

Criminal judicial procedures fell far short of the most basic international standards, with detainees held incommunicado and defendants denied the right of access to a lawyer, the right to a defence, and the right to appeal. In some cases such unfair trials led to execution, amputation or flogging. Political prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience, were arrested during 1999, and others arrested in previous years continued to be held without trial. There were continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment, including cruel judicial punishments such as flogging and amputation. More than 100 people were reportedly executed and the true figure might have been far higher.


The government continued to enforce a ban on political parties and trade unions. Press censorship also continued to be strictly enforced. Information on human rights violations remained severely limited. There is no independent Bar Association to oversee the activities of lawyers. The government continued to impose restrictions on access to the country by international human rights organizations.

The lack of independent judicial supervision over arrest and detention procedures meant that detainees, including those suspected of being political or religious opponents of the government, could be detained for long periods without charge or trial. They could be held in incommunicado detention, at risk of torture. Those who came to trial were denied the most basic safeguards for fair trial. The independence of the judiciary in Saudi Arabia is recognized in principle by law. However, in practice the judiciary was subordinated to the executive authority, in particular the Ministers of Justice and the Interior.

In October it was reported that Minister of Justice 'Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Ibrahim al-Sheikh had announced plans to introduce a code of practice for lawyers. However, no further details were available.


There was growing debate during 1999, reported in the Saudi Arabian media, about the rights of women. In April Crown Prince 'Abdullah bin 'Abdel 'Aziz referred to women's "effective role in the service of their religion and nation", sparking media speculation that the ban on women driving could be lifted. However, in May Minister of the Interior Nayef bin 'Abdel-'Aziz told the media that the driving ban was not to be lifted. In October a group of about 20 women were permitted to observe a session of the Consultative Council, a group of 90 appointed male advisers to the government. The move followed a statement by the head of the Council in which he reportedly said, "There is absolutely nothing that prevents the council from being enlightened by the views of women". In November the Deputy Interior Minister was reported as saying that female Saudi Arabian citizens would be issued with their own identity cards for the first time. However, no further details were reported.


Dozens of people were arrested on political or religious grounds, including possible prisoners of conscience. * Muhammad Al-Farraj, a lecturer at the Imam Mohamed bin Sa 'ud Islamic University in Riyadh, was reportedly arrested at his home in Riyadh by al-Mabahith al-'Amma (General Investigations) in August 1999. At the end of the year he was understood to be in al-Ha'ir prison in Riyadh. Reports indicated that he was arrested because of a poem he wrote and publicized about a week before his arrest. The poem was about two former political prisoners, Sheikh Salman bin Fahd al-'Awda and Sheikh Safr 'Abdul-Rahman al-Hawali.

  • Ishaq al-Sheikh Yaqub, a 70-year-old journalist was arrested in April upon his return to Saudi Arabia from Bahrain. AI did not know the reasons for his arrest, but reports suggested that he might have been detained for his activities as a journalist. He was reportedly released without charge in October.

Dozens of Christians were arrested during 1999, reportedly for the non-violent expression of their religious beliefs. All the Christians known to have been arrested were foreign nationals who were released and deported after a short period. They included a group of 13 individuals, all Philippine nationals, who were arrested in October, reportedly while participating in a Christian service in a private home. They were held incommunicado for nearly three weeks before being released and deported.

A number of Shi'a clerics were also arrested during 1999, most reportedly because they were suspected political or religious opponents of the government. Those arrested included al-Sayyid Munir al-Sayyid 'Adnan al-Khabaz, a cleric from al-Qutaif. He was reportedly arrested in December at Jeddah airport, on his return from studying in the city of Qom, Iran.

Political prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience, arrested in previous years continued to be held without trial. They were believed to number between 100 and 200. According to AI's information, some of the detainees were held as suspects in connection with violent activities such as the bombing of a US military base in 1996. Other political detainees were reported to be held primarily for their political views and criticism of the state.

  • Hani al-Sayegh, a 30-year-old Saudi Arabian who was seeking asylum in the USA, was forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia in October. He was detained immediately on arrival as a suspect in connection with the bombing of a US military complex at al-Khobar in 1996, an offence punishable by death. At the end of 1999 he was still held without access to lawyers and remained at risk of torture, unfair trial and possible death sentence. The US government stated that it had received assurances from the Saudi Arabian government that Hani al-Sayegh would not be tortured, but no details of the assurances were made public. Shortly after Hani al-Sayegh's forcible return to Saudi Arabia, AI announced that it proposed to send a delegation to observe trial proceedings against the detainee. However by the end of 1999, no response had been received concerning visa applications by the proposed delegates.
  • Dr Sa'id bin Zua'ir, head of the Department of Information at Imam Mohamed bin Sa'ud Islamic University, was arrested in early 1995 at his home in Riyadh by members of al-Mabahith al-'Amma. He was believed to have been denied any visits by his relatives and to have been pressured to sign an undertaking to cease political activities in exchange for his release. He continued to be held in al-Ha'ir prison. To AI's knowledge, he and other political detainees were not charged with any recognizably criminal offence and were denied the right to challenge the legality of their detention.


A number of political prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience, arrested in previous years were released. They included Kamil 'Abbas al-Ahmad, a possible prisoner of conscience, who was released in May. Kamil 'Abbas al-Ahmad was arrested in July 1996 and held in the al-Mabahith al-'Amma headquarters in Dammam without trial and possibly without charge. Kamil 'Abbas al-Ahmad is a member of the Shi'a religious community in Saudi Arabia. Sheikh Salman Bin Fahd al-'Awda and Sheikh Safr 'Abdul-Rahman al-Hawali, both political prisoners, were released in June. Sheikh Salman bin Fahd al-'Awda and Sheikh Safr 'Abdul-Rahman al-Hawali were both prominent religious figures and critics of the system of the government in Saudi Arabia. They were arrested on 13 September 1994 and 17 September 1994 respectively, after giving public lectures criticizing the government. They were both held in al-Ha'ir prison without charge or trial.


There were continuing reports of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

  • Phil Lomax, a UK national who worked in Saudi Arabia, was arrested and beaten at night in May. He said that seven mutawa'een (religious police) and two government policemen entered his flat and kicked him, both before and after handcuffing him behind his back. They refused to tell him why they were there and destroyed personal effects including photographs and videos.

To AI's knowledge there was no investigation into the case of Ahmad bin Ahmad Mulablib, a prayer leader from al-Jufer village in al-Ihsa, who reportedly died in custody in November 1998.

New information came to light during 1999 concerning torture which had reportedly taken place in previous years.

  • Roger Cortez, a Philippine national, who was released from prison in Riyadh in October 1999, was allegedly tortured when first arrested in 1997. His interrogators slapped him on his ears and pushed his face against the wall. He was beaten and kicked while wearing handcuffs and shackles, making it difficult to maintain his balance when hit or kicked, and for him to stand up again when he fell over. He was also threatened with a baseball bat. Roger Cortez was arrested in connection with a murder, but the precise nature of the charges against him, and his sentence, were unclear. He was released in October 1999, after receiving 250 lashes.


Flogging and amputations continued to be imposed, although information about court cases and the carrying out of such punishments was limited.

  • In May, two Philippine women were reportedly sentenced to 700 lashes each and two years' imprisonment for carrying out illegal abortions. However, no further details were available.
  • In December a Ministry of the Interior statement, published in the local press, stated that Nuwiga' bin Faraj bin Hadar al-'Amiri and 'Ali bin 'Aeed bin Maful al-'Amiri each had a hand and a foot amputated. The men had reportedly been found guilty of highway robbery. The amputations were reported to have taken place in the city of Tabuk.


At least 103 executions were carried out during 1999. However, AI fears that the true number of people executed may have been much higher. Executions carried out were for various crimes including murder, rape, and drug smuggling. Of those that were announced, 64 were of foreign nationals. They included 15 individuals from Pakistan and 10 from Nigeria, as well as people from Afghanistan, India, Jordan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Chad, Yemen, Syria and Thailand. At least three women were executed, reportedly after being found guilty of drug smuggling. They were Hawa Faruk, Aishah Sa'adah Qasim and Safira Ounbiyi Salami, all Nigerian nationals.

A number of people sentenced to death were reportedly pardoned. They included Mohammad bin Abdullah al-Hajji, sentenced to death for murder. In October he was reportedly pardoned by the relatives of the victim just minutes before he was due to be executed.

The exact number of prisoners under sentence of death at the end of 1999 was not known as the government continued to keep such information secret. AI sought information from the government on scores of individuals understood to be sentenced to death or arrested in connection with capital offences in previous years.

Those sentenced to death included Sarah Dematera, a Philippine domestic worker who was convicted of murdering her employer in 1992.


The government failed to respond to any letters from AI, including visa applications to attend the trial of Hani al-Sayegh. In September AI received a letter from the adviser to Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UK. The letter indicated that Saudi Arabia was planning to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The letter also indicated that the government had plans to establish a national commission for human rights, a number of units concerned with human rights within specific ministries, and a non-governmental commission concerned with human rights. The letter did not give further details nor did it address a range of concerns that AI had brought to the government's attention. AI wrote to the ambassador seeking more details of the new initiatives.


AI submitted information on Saudi Arabia for review by the UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR) under a procedure established by UN Economic and Social Council Resolutions 728F/1503 for confidential consideration of communications about human rights violations. AI's submission followed the CHR's decision, in 1998, to discontinue consideration of an earlier submission under the procedure.

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