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Saudi Arabia: Stop Human Rights Violations Committed in the Name of Fighting Terrorism
LONDON - The Saudi Arabian authorities have launched a sustained assault on
human rights under the façade of countering terrorism, Amnesty
International said in a new comprehensive report published today.
Thousands of people have been arrested and detained in virtual
secrecy, and others have been killed in uncertain circumstances.
Hundreds more people face secret and summary trials and possible
execution. Many are reported to have been tortured in order to extract
confessions or as punishment after conviction.
As recently as 8 July, the Ministry of Justice announced that 330
people had been tried for terrorism offences with sentences ranging
from fines to the death penalty. The names of the people or the details
of the charges were not disclosed, continuing the secrecy of the trial
“These unjust anti-terrorism measures have made an already dire
human rights situation worse,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty
International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. “The Saudi
Arabian government has used its powerful international clout to get
away with it. And the international community has failed to hold the
government to account for these gross violations.”
Of the thousands detained by the authorities, some are prisoners of
conscience, targeted for their peaceful criticism of government
policies. The majority are suspected supporters of Islamist groups or
factions opposed to the Saudi Arabian government’s close links to the
USA and other Western countries, which have carried out a number of
attacks targeting Westerners and others, and are officially dubbed as
“misguided”. They also include people forcibly returned from Iraq,
Pakistan, Yemen and other countries.
“The abuses take place behind a wall of secrecy. Detainees are held
with no idea of what is going to happen to them,” said Malcolm Smart.
“Most are held incommunicado for years without trial, and are denied
access to lawyers and the courts to challenge the legality of their
detention. This has a devastating effect on both the individuals who
are detained and on their families.”
The anti-terrorism measures adopted by the government since the
attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001 have exacerbated long-standing
human rights abuses in the country.
Arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention of political and security
suspects without trial and without access to lawyers have been
long-standing human rights problems in Saudi Arabia. However, the
number of people being detained arbitrarily has risen from hundreds to
thousands since 2001. Those arrested include Saudi Arabians and foreign
In July 2007, the Interior Minister reported that 9,000 security
suspects had been detained between 2003 and 2007 and that 3,106 of them
are still being held. Others have been moved to an official
“re-education” programme though it is unclear how they are selected and
under what conditions they can obtain release.
Reported methods of torture and other ill-treatment include severe
beatings with sticks, punching, and suspension from the ceiling, use of
electric shocks and sleep deprivation. Flogging is also imposed as a
legal punishment by itself or in addition to imprisonment, and
sentences can include thousands of lashes.
The Amnesty International report highlights how trials of political
or security detainees in Saudi Arabia take place in extreme secrecy and
fail to meet international standards of fairness. In March this year
the government announced that the trials of 991 detainees accused of
capital offences had begun in a special criminal court. In many cases
defendants and their families are not informed of the progress of legal
proceedings against them.
The anti-terrorism measures introduced since 2001 have set back the
process of limited human rights reform in Saudi Arabia. Combined with
severe repression of all forms of dissent and a weak human rights
framework there is now an almost complete lack of protection of
freedoms and rights.
“Please do not abandon us to the claws of tyranny and blind power. I
fear for myself, my children and especially for my husband, who is in
detention. I don’t know what has happened to my husband, where he is,
or what will happen to him. As for my children and for me, without him,
we are the living dead. Please help me to get my husband justice. I beg
of you in the Name of Allah.”
This is one of many cries for help that Amnesty International has
received from the wives, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of
people whose human rights are being abused with impunity in Saudi
Arabia in the name of security and counter-terrorism. Her name has been
withheld for fear of reprisal.
Dr Saud al-Hashimi, a prisoner of conscience, is reported to have
been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment several times since
his arrest in February 2007.The latest such treatment is reported to
have taken place in June 2009 for starting a hunger strike against his
indefinite detention without trial. He was reportedly stripped of all
his clothes, except his underwear, shackled and dragged from his cell
and placed in a severely cold cell for about five hours. He and at
least six other prisoners of conscience held with him in Dhahban Prison
near Jeddah were targeted by the authorities for calling for political
reform; discussing a proposal to establish an independent human rights
organization in Saudi Arabia; and calling for an end to impunity for
human rights violations committed by Ministry of Interior officials.
The Ministry of Interior says they were arrested for collecting money
to support terrorism, but the detainees strongly deny this. Since their
arrest, they have been detained without charge or trial and held in
solitary confinement, and they remain at risk of torture and other
Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, a 48-year-old Saudi Arabian lecturer at Um
al-Qura University in Makkah, was arrested in 2003. The government said
that he was arrested with a cell of "terrorists" but his trial was held
in secret and he was not allowed any legal assistance or
representation. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found the
detention of Abdul Rahman al-Sudais to be in contravention of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and said that "the fight against
terrorism threats cannot justify undermining due process rights
afforded to all accused…" In at least one other case, three of four
defendants accused of responsibility for killings were executed and
their bodies were crucified.
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