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Human Rights Violations In Saudi Arabia

Human rights in Saudi Arabia are a topic of concern. The Saudi government, which enforces sharia law under the absolute rule of the House of Saud, have been accused of and denounced by various international organizations and governments for violating multiple human rights within the country.

The totalitarian regime ruling the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is consistently ranked among the "worst of the worst" in Freedom House's annual survey of political and civil rights. On 28 December 2020, the Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced a prominent Saudi women's rights activist to nearly 6 years in prison, drawing a renewed attention to the kingdom's human rights issues.

Saudi Arabia is one of approximately 30 countries in the world with judicial corporal punishment. In Saudi Arabia's case this includes amputations of hands and feet for robbery, and flogging for lesser crimes such as "sexual deviance" and drunkenness. In the 2000s, it was reported that women were sentenced to lashes for adultery; the women were actually victims of rape, but because they could not prove who the perpetrators were, they were deemed guilty of committing adultery.

The number of lashes is not clearly prescribed by law and is varied according to the discretion of judges, and ranges from dozens of lashes to several hundred, usually applied over a period of weeks or months. In 2004, the United Nations Committee Against Torture criticized Saudi Arabia over the amputations and floggings it carries out under Sharia.

The Saudi delegation responded defending legal traditions held since the inception of Islam 1,400 years ago and rejected interference in its legal system. Saudi Arabia later abolished the punishment of flogging, and replaced it by jail time or fines or both. The courts continue 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.

For Instance In 2009, Mazen Abdul-Jawad was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and five years in prison for bragging on a Saudi TV show about his sexual exploits. In 2014, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi's sentence was increased to 1,000 lashes and ten years' imprisonment after he was accused of apostasy in 2012.

Ways In Which Saudi Arabia Is Violating Human Rights:

  1. Torture is used as a Punishment

    Courts in Saudi Arabia continue to sentence people to be punished by torture for many offences, often following unfair trials. Corporal punishment like flogging, for example, is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment that has no place in the justice system.

    Besides Raif, in the past two years the human rights defenders Mikhlif bin Daham al-Shammari and Omar al-Sa'id were sentenced to 200 and 300 lashes respectively, and Filipino domestic worker Ruth Cosrojas was sentenced to 300.

    There are other forms of torture issued as punishment: Saudi authorities have carried out amputations, including 'cross amputations' on people found guilty of robbery.

    A report was also submitted to United Nations commission against the tortures committed in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia acceded to the Convention Against Torture in September 1997. It contained information on how Saudi Arabia's behaviour is inconsistent with the Convention, and proposes specific concerns that Committee members should raise with the government of Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch closely monitored the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

    Human Rights Watch Encourages The Committee To Use The Upcoming Review To:

    • Urge Saudi authorities to enact a written criminal regulation that prohibits torture and ill-treatment, contains a definition of torture consistent with the Convention, and sets associated punishments.
    • Urge Saudi authorities to enact a written regulation that prohibits admission into the record by courts of confessions or statements extracted through torture or coercion and requires that judicial authorities thoroughly investigate the circumstances under which confessions alleged to have been obtained by torture or ill-treatment were obtained.
    • Urge Saudi authorities carry out fundamental reforms that prevent violations of existing protections in domestic law and align existing domestic law with the Convention.
    • Empower defense lawyers and independent monitors to observe the treatment of detainees, including during interrogations.
    • Ask the Saudi government to explain what steps have been taken to investigate the credible and well-documented allegations of ill-treatment and torture of Mikhlif al-Shammari, Fadhel al-Manasif, Waleed Abu al-Khair, Ali al-Nimr, Dawoud al-Marhoun, Abdullah al-Zaher, and Ali Aldubasi, and the status of investigations, if any, and their results.
    • Urge the Saudi government to end its crackdown on civil society and human rights work, ensuring independent civil society groups and activists can operate without undue hindrance or fear of persecution.
    • Ask the Saudi government to outline what steps it has taken, or is taking, to investigate promptly and impartially all allegations of torture or ill-treatment, including denial of proper medical care, by law enforcement and prison officials and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, in a court that meets international fair trial standards, any official against whom there is credible evidence of involvement in ordering, carrying out, or acquiescing to torture or ill-treatment.
  2. Executions are on the increase

    Saudi Arabia is among the world's top executioners, with dozens of people being executed by the state every year, many of them in public beheadings. Saudi Arabia has a criminal justice system based on a form of Shari'ah reflecting a particular state-sanctioned interpretation of Islam.

    Execution is usually carried out publicly by beheading with a sword but may occasionally be performed by shooting.

    A public beheading will typically take place around 9 a.m. The convicted person is walked to a court yard near the court-house and kneels in front of the executioner. A police official announces the crimes committed by the person and the beheading takes place. The executioner uses a sword known as a sulthan to remove the condemned person's head from his or her body at the neck. After a medical examiner inspects the body and then pronounces the convict dead, a police official announces the crimes committed by the beheaded convict once again and the process is complete. Professional executioners have beheaded as many as 10 people in a single day in time of influxes of crime.

    Saudi law theoretically allows the death penalty for a variety of crimes:
    • Apostasy
    • Treason
    • Homosexuality
    • Espionage
    • Murder
    • Rape
    • Terrorism
    • Drug smuggling
    • Armed robbery
    • Blasphemy
    • Burglary if aggravated circumstances, including recidivism
    • Adultery
    • Sorcery or witchcraft
    • Waging war on God
    • Murder
    Murder is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. If a murderer pays a family of the victim blood money, and the family approves of the choice, the murderer will not be executed. The criminal justice system waits until the family makes a decision on whether the family of the victim will accept blood money or if the family of the victim will choose to have the murderer executed, or to completely forgive the perpetrator.
  3. No free speech

    Besides Raif Badawi, dozens more outspoken activists remain behind bars, simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

    In the last years, all of Saudi Arabia's prominent and independent human rights defenders have been imprisoned, threatened into silence, or fled the country. The authorities have targeted the small but vocal community of human rights defenders, including by using anti-terrorism laws to suppress their peaceful actions to expose and address human rights violations. Multiple forms of media including books, newspapers, magazines, films, television, and content published on the Internet are censored in Saudi Arabia.

    The Saudi government closely monitors media and restricts it under official state law. Changes have been made to lessen these restrictions; however, some government-led efforts to control information have also drawn international attention.
  4. No protests

    Going to a public gathering, including a demonstration, is a criminal act, under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those who defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as 'inciting people against the authorities'. The right of peaceful assembly is not respected in Saudi Arabia. Protests may be forcibly dispersed by police using excessive force and demonstrators may be punished under draconian counterterrorism legislation, including through executions in violation of international law.

    Constitutional Provisions
    The 1959 Constitution of Saudi Arabia does not explicitly guarantee the right of peaceful assembly though under its Basic Law, it is stipulated that:
    "The State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic Shari'ah."
    National Legislation
    There is no national legislation protecting the right of peaceful assembly. Indeed, the Ministry of Interior has issued a circular prohibiting assemblies altogether, and threatening to punish individuals who participate in them. Cultural and literary assemblies and other forums are also banned. Counterterrorism legislation, is used to criminalise assemblies, as acts deemed to "disturb the public order." The highest religious authority in the state, the Commission of Senior Scholars, has issued a statement declaring that assemblies are religiously prohibited as well.

    Spontaneous demonstrations are not allowed. Individuals who take part in spontaneous demonstrations are subject to a range of punishments including imprisonment, flogging, and travel bans. The punishments are usually based on fatwas, or religious edicts, issued by the Commission of Senior Scholars.
  5. Women are widely discriminated against

    Women and girls remain subject to discrimination in law and practice, with laws that ensure they are subordinate citizens to men - particularly in relation to family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

    Women who supported a campaign against a ban on women drivers face the threat of arrest and other harassment and intimidation.

    There are certain ways in which woman are discriminated, they are as follow:

    • No freedom to travel or to get passport.
    • No freedom to choose marriage partner and child marriage.
    • Domestic violence.
    • Discrimination in employment opportunities.
    • Discrimination in health care opportunities.
    • Inequality in divorce, child custody and inheritance.
    • Challenges to transferring guardianship.
    • Restrictions on leaving prison and shelters.
    • Restrictions in studying abroad.
    • Political repression.
    Human rights defenders and women's' rights activists have been targeted for participating in the women's driving campaign. Alia Fared was driving when she noticed that five security forces vehicles were pursuing her. Her car was seized for a week and she was made to sign a pledge not to drive again.

    Her treatment forms part of a systematic approach by Saudi authorities against activists of the women's driving campaign. Many such activists have had their cars seized, been fined, been summoned for investigations, been detained for long hours in police stations and forced to sign pledges not to drive again.
  6. Torture in police custody is common

    Former detainees, trial defendants and others have told us that the security forces frequently use torture in detention, and that those responsible are never brought to justice.
    Torture in detention is commonplace in Saudi Arabia. The forms of torture used include severe beating and flogging; hooding; hanging by hands and feet and beating on the soles of the feet; deprivation of sleep, food and light; exposure to extremes of temperature and the use of prolonged solitary confinement. Incommunicado detention is also used as a tool to psychologically break down human rights defenders.

    There are endless examples of human rights defenders who have been detained and suffered torture at the hands of state authorities as a result of their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.
  7. You can be detained and arrested with no good reason

    Scores of people have been arrested and detained in pre-trial detention for six months or more, which breaches the Kingdom's own criminal codes. Detainees are frequently held incommunicado during their interrogation and denied access to their lawyers. Some human rights activists have been detained without charge or trial for more than two years. Saudi Arabia's use of arbitrary detention has faced increasing scrutiny since the November 4, 2017 mass arrest of 381 people on corruption allegations.

    The arrests raised human rights concerns and appeared to take place outside of any recognizable legal framework, with detainees forced to trade financial and business assets for their freedom. Saudi Arabia's Law of Criminal Procedure provides that a person may be detained without charge for a maximum of five days, renewable up to six months by an order of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution. After six months, the law requires that a detainee "be directly transferred to the competent court, or be released."
  8. Religious discrimination is rife

    Members of the Kingdom's Shi'a minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face entrenched discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Shi'a activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic theocracy and the government has declared the Qur'an and the Sunnah of Muhammad to be the country's Constitution.

    Freedom of religion is not illegal, but spreading the religion is illegal. Islam is the official religion. Under the law, children born to Muslim fathers are also Muslim, regardless of the country or the religious tradition in which they have been raised. The government prohibits the public practice of other religions but the government generally allows private practice of non-Muslim religions.

    The primary source of law in Saudi Arabia is based on Sharia, with Shari'a courts basing their judgments largely on a code derived from the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Additionally, traditional tribal law and custom remain significant.

    The only national holidays observed in Saudi Arabia are the two Eids, Eid Al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan and Eid Al-Adha at the conclusion of the Hajj and the Saudi national day. Contrary practices, such as celebrating Maulid Al-Nabi and visits to the tombs of renowned Muslims, are forbidden, although enforcement was more relaxed in some communities than in others, and Shi'a were permitted to observe Ashura publicly in some communities.

  9. Migrant workers have been deported en masse

    According to the Interior Ministry, a crackdown on irregular foreign migrant workers in November 2013 led to the deportation of more than 370,000 people. Some 18,000 were still being detained last March. Thousands of people were summarily returned to Somalia, Yemen or other states where they could face human rights abuses on return. The kafala system, present in a number of other Arab countries, governs the conditions and processes for employment of foreigners. Under this system, all non-Saudis present in the country for employment purposes must have a sponsor, which is usually arranged months in advance.

    Foreign workers must be free of infectious disease, including HIV and tuberculosis. Infectious disease tests are conducted when the worker applies for their visa in their home country, and then must be conducted again once in Saudi Arabia to obtain the long-term iqama residency card. Whereas in latest development the conditions of foreign workers has started improving as it was promises that living and working conditions for non-Saudis, by extending their ability to own real estate in certain areas, improving the quality of life, permitting the establishment of more private schools and adopting an effective and simple system for issuing visas and residence permits.
  10. Human rights organisations banned

    The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact us.

LGBT community

Human rights in Saudi Arabia are unrecognized. Homosexuality is frequently a taboo subject in Saudi Arabian society and is punished with imprisonment, corporal punishment and capital punishment. Transgender people are generally associated with homosexuality and doctors are banned by the Saudi Ministry of Health from giving hormone replacement therapy to transgender people seeking to medically transition. In 2017, two transgender Pakistanis were allegedly tortured to death by Saudi police. Police later denied the reports.

In 2000, the Saudi Government reported that it had sentenced nine Saudi men to extensive prison terms with lashing for engaging in cross-dressing and homosexual relations. That same year the government executed three Yemeni male workers for homosexuality and child molestation. In 2001, Saudi teacher and playwright Muhammad Al-Suhaimi was charged with promoting homosexuality and after a trial was sentenced to prison. In 2006, he was given a pardon and allowed to resume teaching.

In May 2005, the government arrested 92 men for homosexuality, who were given sentences ranging from fines to prison sentences of several months and lashings.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ratified the International Convention against Torture in October 1997 according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Human rights of Saudi Arabia are specified in article 26 of the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia. Recently created human rights organizations include Human Rights First Society (2002), Association for the Protection and Defence of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia (2007),Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (2009) and the government-associated National Society for Human Rights (2004).

In 2008, the Shura Council ratified the Arab Charter on Human Rights. In 2011, the Specialized Criminal Court was used to charge and sentence human rights activists. Saudi Arabia lost its bid to win a seat at the UN Human Rights Council - a 47-seat body that claims to protect and promote human rights on the world scale.

The country only received 90 votes in support of its bid. Analysts named the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and detention of women's rights activists and claimed that the country's global image as a violator of human rights resulted in its failure to secure votes for the bid. On 15 June 2021, Saudi Arabia executed Mustafa al-Darwish, who was arrested in May 2015 on charges related to an anti-government protest when he was a teenager. Amnesty International called the trial "deeply flawed" as the kingdom had announced last year to end death penalty for people under 18 years of age. Yet Saudi executed Darwish for an alleged crime when he was 17.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Anmol Kumar Ghai
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