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
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:
Torture is used as a PunishmentCourts 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
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.
Executions are on the increaseSaudi 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:
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.
- Drug smuggling
- Armed robbery
- Burglary if aggravated circumstances, including recidivism
- Sorcery or witchcraft
- Waging war on God
No free speechBesides 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
No protestsGoing 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.
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."
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.
Women are widely discriminated againstWomen 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:
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.
- 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.
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.
Torture in police custody is commonFormer 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.
You can be detained and arrested with no good reasonScores 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."
Religious discrimination is rifeMembers 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
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
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.
Migrant workers have been deported en masseAccording 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.
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.
Human rights organisations bannedThe 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.
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
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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