The United States Department of State & Human Rights Watch – 2016-01-06 00:44:15
Saudi Arabia 2014 Human Rights Report
The United States Department of State
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The government bases its legitimacy on its interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) and the 1992 Basic Law, which specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud.
The Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Koran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution.
In 2011 the country held elections on a nonparty basis for half of the 1,632 seats on the 285 municipal councils around the country. Independent polling station observers identified no irregularities with the election; however, women could not be candidates and could not vote. Authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most important human rights problems reported included citizens’ lack of the ability and legal means to change their government; pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the Internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women, children, and noncitizen workers.
Other human rights problems reported included abuses of detainees; overcrowding in prisons and detention centers; investigating, detaining, prosecuting, and sentencing lawyers, human rights activists, and antigovernment reformists; holding political prisoners; denial of due process; arbitrary arrest and detention; and arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence. Violence against women, trafficking in persons, and discrimination based on gender, religion, sect, race, and ethnicity were common. Lack of governmental transparency and access made it difficult to assess the magnitude of many reported human rights problems.
The government identified, prosecuted, and punished a limited number of officials who committed abuses, particularly those engaged or complicit in corruption. Some members of the security forces and other senior officials reportedly committed abuses with relative impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government or its agents were not known to have committed politically motivated killings during the year. Closed court proceedings in some capital cases made it impossible to determine positively whether authorities allowed the accused to present a defense or granted basic due process; however, the law requires a unanimous endorsement by the Supreme Judicial Council for all death sentences.
On February 19, two security personnel and two local residents were killed during an attempt to arrest a wanted man in Awamiya. According to official statements, the police came under fire when attempting to enter the home of the wanted man’s brother. During the exchange of gunfire, a resident of the home and a neighbor were killed. The neighbor, 34-year-old Hussein Ali Madan al-Faraj, was killed in an alleyway near the house while carrying a camera. Local residents reported he often photographed protests and police actions and had come out of his nearby home to document the arrest.
According to the country’s interpretation and practice of sharia, capital punishment is the prescribed penalty for sorcery. The country lacks a written penal code listing criminal offenses and the associated penalties for them (see section 1. e.); absent such a code, the punishments for the practice of magic or sorcery are subject to considerable judicial discretion in the courts.
Authorities investigated or arrested several individuals in connection with sorcery during the year. On August 5, the Ministry of Interior announced that authorities beheaded Mohammad bin Bakr al-Alawi, a Saudi national, for practicing sorcery “and other similar offenses” in the border town of Gurayyat in al-Jawf Province, based on a judicial order.
The government reportedly arrested and detained multiple persons during the year, refusing for extended periods in some cases to acknowledge the detention or to provide information about an individual’s whereabouts.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture and holds criminal investigation officers accountable for any abuse of authority. sharia, as interpreted in the country, prohibits judges from accepting confessions obtained under duress; statutory law provides that public investigators shall not subject accused persons to coercive measures to influence their testimony.
In contrast with previous years, there were no confirmed reports of torture by government officials. Ministry of Interior officials claimed rules prohibiting torture prevent such practices from occurring in the penal system. Former detainees in al-Ha’ir Prison, a detention facility run by the ministry’s General Investigations Directorate (Mabahith), claimed that while physical torture was uncommon in detention, Mabahith officials sometimes resorted to mental or psychological abuse of detainees, particularly during the investigation phase when interrogating suspects. The ministry installed surveillance cameras to record interrogations of suspected persons in criminal investigation offices, some police stations, and in prisons where such interrogations regularly occurred, such as Mabahith prison facilities.
Government officials also claimed representatives from the governmental Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the quasi-nongovernmental National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), supported by a trust funded by the estate of the late king Fahd, conducted prison visits to ascertain whether torture did or did not occur in prisons or detention centers and maintained permanent branches in some facilities. No former detainees, however, have verified independently that such office branches existed.
Moreover, there continued to be reports ministry officials sometimes subjected prisoners and detainees to physical and mental abuse; however, due to lack of government transparency, it was not possible to ascertain the accuracy of some of these reports. There was no available information on the number of cases of abuse and corporal punishment; however, former detainees in Mabahith-run facilities alleged abuse during detention, including sleep deprivation or long periods of solitary confinement for nonviolent detainees.
Authorities executed several individuals during the year for crimes such as drug smuggling and sorcery. On August 18, the Ministry of Interior announced the execution of four Saudi men, Hadi al-Mutlaq, Awadj al-Mutlaq, Mufreh al-Yami, and Ali al-Yami, following their conviction on charges of smuggling hashish into the kingdom.
In 2011 security officials reportedly took human rights activist Mekhlef bin Daham al-Shammary from his prison cell at the Dammam General Prison and allegedly poured an antiseptic cleaning liquid down his throat, resulting in his hospitalization. In 2012 officials released al-Shammary from prison, and the Board of Grievances reportedly awarded him compensation for wrongful detention. In November, however, an appeals court in Riyadh ruled that his case was not in the jurisdiction of the Board of Grievances.
On February 17, al- Shammary asked the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh to complete proceedings against him after judicial authorities failed to issue a sentence by the February 10 deadline. Officials at the court reportedly told al-Shammary that it had postponed indefinitely issuing his sentence. On November 3, the Khobar Criminal Court sentenced al-Shammary to two years in prison and 200 lashes, after he commented on Twitter in support of Shia-Sunni reconciliation and attended a Shia religious gathering.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), a semiautonomous agency — referred to by some as the “religious police” — has the authority to monitor social behavior and enforce morality subject to the law and in coordination with law enforcement authorities.
The courts continued to use corporal punishment as a judicial penalty, almost always in the form of floggings, a practice government officials defended as dictated by sharia. According to local human rights activists, police conducted the floggings according to a set of guidelines determined by local interpretation of sharia. The police official administering the punishment must place a book under his arm that prevents raising the hand above the head, limiting the ability to inflict pain on the person subjected to the punishment, and instructions forbid police from breaking the skin or causing scarring when administering the lashes.
Courts sentenced several individuals convicted of theft to be punished by amputation, and there was one confirmed case of judicially administered amputation during the year.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions varied, and some did not meet international standards.
Physical Conditions: The director general of prisons announced in February 2013 there were 47,000 male and female prisoners and detainees in the kingdom; noncitizens constituted approximately 72 percent of those held. Authorities held men and women in separate facilities and staffed women’s prisons with female guards. Juveniles constituted less than 1 percent of detainees. Although information on the maximum capacity of the facilities was not available, overcrowding in some detention centers was a problem.
Violations listed in reports by the NSHR following prison visits documented shortages of, and improperly trained, wardens; lack of access to prompt medical treatment when requested; holding prisoners beyond the end of their sentences; and failure to inform prisoners of their legal rights. An October report criticized prison authorities for allowing some prisoners and prison administrators to exploit other inmates by hoarding supplies sold by prison commissaries.
Some detained individuals complained about lack of access to adequate health-care services. Some prisoners alleged prison authorities maintained cold temperatures in prison facilities and deliberately kept lights on 24 hours per day to make prisoners uncomfortable.
Observers regarded food supplied as adequate; however, in March local media reported prison authorities forced inmates in a prison in Najran to eat a meal that included chicken heads. The spokesman for the General Directorate of Prisons, Major Abdullah al-Harbi, announced authorities would investigate the incident; however, at year’s end there was no report of the results of the investigation. Human rights activists reported that death in prisons, jails, or pretrial detention centers was infrequent.
Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. They separated persons suspected or convicted of terrorism offenses from the general population but held them in similar facilities. There were no reports of prisoners denied access to potable water.
Activists alleged authorities sometimes detained individuals in the same cells as individuals with mental disabilities as a form of punishment and indicated authorities equally mistreated the persons with disabilities. This was the case for political reformist Abdulaziz al-Wuhaibi, who remained in a military hospital’s psychological ward during the year (see section 3).
Administration: There were multiple legal authorities for prisons and detention centers. Local provincial authorities administered some prisons while the Ministry of Interior administered other prisons and detention centers. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicted prisoners, as there was no enforced policy in place to detain the two groups separately. Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate.
There were reports authorities held prisoners after they had completed their sentences. In June Nasir al-Yamani, the director of the Jeddah juvenile detention center Dar al-Mulhadh, stated 10 convicts detained at his facility had completed their 10-year prison terms, but authorities had not completed procedures necessary to release them. The Saudi Human Rights Commission registered a complaint with the Ministry of Social Affairs concerning the 10 detainees on behalf of their families.
Penal and judicial authorities used alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, including probation, house arrest, travel bans, and religious counseling. In February 2013, however, the Ministry of Interior launched an “electronic portal” that provided detainees and their relatives access to a database containing information about the legal status of the detainee, including any scheduled trial dates.
No ombudsmen were available to register or investigate complaints made by prisoners, although prisoners could and did submit complaints to the HRC and the NSHR for investigation. Authorities differentiated between violent and nonviolent prisoners, pardoning nonviolent prisoners to reduce the prison population.
Authorities permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners twice a week; however, there were reports prison officials denied this privilege in some instances. Authorities permitted Muslim detainees and prisoners to perform religious observances such as prayers; however, prison authorities in Mabahith prison facilities reportedly did not arrange for detainees to conduct Friday Islamic congregational prayer services.
There was no information available on whether prisoners were able to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or whether authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment and made them public. The families of detainees could access a website for the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Prisons that contained forms to apply for prison visits, temporary leave from prison (generally approved around the post-Ramadan Eid holidays), and release on bail (for pretrial detainees). Family members of detained persons continued to complain authorities canceled scheduled visits with their relatives without reason.
Independent Monitoring: No independent human rights observers visited prisons or detention centers during the year. There were no reports the government permitted foreign diplomats to visit prison facilities to view general conditions in nonconsular cases. In a limited number of cases, foreign diplomats visited individuals in detention; however, visits took place in a separate visitors’ center where conditions may have differed from those in the detention facilities holding the prisoners.
The most recent prison visit conducted by an independent human rights organization was a 2006 visit by Human Rights Watch (HRW); however, the government permitted the governmental HRC and domestic quasi-governmental organizations such as the NSHR to monitor prison conditions. The organizations stated they visited prisons throughout the country and reported on prison conditions. The NSHR monitored health care in prisons and brought deficiencies to the attention of the Ministry of Interior.
In August the NSHR announced it had submitted 943 letters of complaint to the Ministry of Interior’s Mabahith concerning prison conditions on behalf of detainees housed between 2009 and the current year. The complaints alleged refusals of temporary release requests and poor healthcare; moreover, they charged Mabahith officers flouted prison regulations. In September the NSHR reported it received 1,328 complaints since 2011 concerning conditions at prisons administered by the ministry’s General Directorate of Prisons.
Sixty percent of the complaints concerned substandard health services and the spread of infectious diseases in detention centers. The NSHR report noted that, in some cases authorities held prisoners in facilities with no ventilation or in locations with direct exposure to the sun. The NSHR report also noted complaints that authorities held individuals beyond their prison sentences and did not provide women detained at al-Malaz prison in Riyadh regular access to legal counsel.
Improvements: The most recently available statistics indicated there were 116 prison facilities run by the General Directorate of Prisons, including 12 reformatories; however, authorities expanded the prison system through the construction of new facilities during the year. Human rights activists reported health services in certain Mabahith-run detention facilities improved, and prison authorities established commissaries in some facilities that allowed prisoners to purchase additional food in exchange for wages earned at the prison.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law provides that no entity may restrict a person’s actions or imprison him, except under provisions of the law. Legally, authorities may not detain a person under arrest for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities must inform the detained person of the reasons for detention.
Nonetheless, because of the government’s ambiguous implementation of the law and a lack of due process, the Ministry of Interior, to which the majority of forces with arrest power reported, maintained broad powers to arrest and detain persons indefinitely without judicial oversight or effective access to legal counsel or family. Authorities held persons for weeks, months, and sometimes years and reportedly failed to advise them promptly of their rights, including their legal right to be represented by an attorney.
In December 2013, the government promulgated a royal decree revising key elements of the Law of Criminal Procedure, nominally strengthening some protections of the original law, but weakening some due process protections.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The king and the ministries of defense and interior, in addition to the Ministry of National Guard, are all responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The Ministry of Interior exercises primary control over internal security and police forces. The civil police and the internal security police have authority to arrest and detain individuals. Military and security courts investigated abuses of authority and security force killings.
The semiautonomous CPVPV, which monitors public behavior to enforce strict adherence to the official interpretation of Islamic norms, reports to the king via the Royal Diwan (royal court) and to the Ministry of Interior. As of June the CPVPV had 12 branch offices, 129 subcommission offices, and 345 information centers throughout the kingdom. Regulations require the members of the CPVPV to carry official identification and have a police officer accompany them at the time of an arrest.
In 2013, the king issued a royal decree curtailing some CPVPV powers and transferring responsibilities to other competent authorities. While the CPVPV may detain suspects for brief periods, it must transfer suspects directly to police authorities to complete legal proceedings against them. CPVPV agents have authority to investigate only certain categories of offenses, including harassment of women, alcohol and drug-related offenses, witchcraft, and sorcery.
On February 19, the chairman of the CPVPV, Sheikh Abdullatif Al al-Sheikh, announced that CPVPV staff regularly monitored electronic websites to forward to the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) cases of individuals who promoted “witchcraft and immorality” on social media sites such as Twitter.
On August 29, CPVPV officials ordered an internal investigation after a witness filmed CPVPV employees in a video posted on the Internet violently assaulting a British national and his Saudi wife in a parking lot in Riyadh. The CPVPV employees reportedly suspected the British man of gender mixing with an unrelated female. Authorities announced they found the four CPVPV employees guilty of abusing authority; the CPVPV employees appealed the judgment.
On August 17, a judge upheld a sentence of a month-long prison term and 50 lashes for a businesswoman convicted of insulting CPVPV officers during an argument after the men entered her cafe to verify no immoral activity was occurring. Also on August 17, the CPVPV disclosed it requested the Ministry of Interior to arrest a number of persons it claimed committed apostasy or blasphemy. Human rights activists alleged the ministry likely originated the list to target critics of the government.
On September 22, the CPVPV president announced the CPVPV had fired an unspecified number of employees who engaged in corruption or used their power to harass persons with whom they had personal disputes.
Ministry of Interior police and security forces were generally effective at maintaining law and order. The Board of Grievances (Diwan al-Mazalim), a high- level administrative judicial body that specializes in cases against government entities and reports directly to the king, is the only formal mechanism available to seek redress for claims of abuse. Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station, to the HRC, or to the NSHR.
The HRC and the NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protected information about individual cases and information was not publicly available. During the year there were no reported prosecutions of security force members for human rights violations, but the Board of Grievances held hearings and adjudicated claims of wrongdoing. The HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, provided materials and training to police, security forces, and the CPVPV on protecting human rights.
The BIP and the Control and Investigation Board (CIB) are the two units of the government with authority to investigate reports of criminal activity, corruption, and “disciplinary cases” involving government employees. These bodies are responsible for investigating potential cases and referring them to the administrative courts.
Officers of the Mabahith, however, also have broad authorities to investigate, detain, and forward to the judicial authorities “national security” cases which ranged from terrorism cases to dissident and human rights activist cases separate from the Board of Investigation and Prosecution. A June, Ministry of Justice decree formalized and reaffirmed the role of the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), founded in 2008 to try terrorism offenses, following the promulgation of a new counterterrorism law in February.
In 2011 the Council of Ministers consolidated legal authorities for investigation and public prosecution of criminal offences within the BIP; however, the CIB continued to be responsible for investigation and prosecution of noncriminal cases. All financial audit and control functions were limited to the General Auditing Board.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
According to the Law of Criminal Procedure, as amended in 2013, “no person shall be arrested, searched, detained, or imprisoned except in cases provided by law, and any accused person shall have the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer or a representative to defend him during the investigation and trial stages.”
Authorities may summon any person for investigation, and authorities may issue an arrest warrant based on evidence, but authorities frequently did not use warrants, and they were not required in cases where probable cause existed.
The law requires that authorities file charges within 72 hours of arrest and hold a trial within six months, subject to exceptions specified by amendments to the Law of Criminal Procedure and the new Counterterrorism Law (see section 2.a.). Legally, authorities may not detain a person under arrest for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator.
Authorities reportedly often failed to observe these legal protections, and there was no requirement to advise suspects of their rights. Judicial proceedings began after authorities completed a full investigation, which in some cases took years.
In November 2013 the government promulgated a royal decree revising key elements of the Law of Criminal Procedure. While some of the amendments offered nominal improvements, other changes weakened due process protections contained in the earlier law. For example, an amendment to the law removed the ability of the presiding judge in a case to transfer it to another court before a sentence was issued.
Another amendment altered language in a manner that might deny defendants the automatic ability to appeal. The law specifies procedures required for extending the detention period of an accused subject beyond the initial five days. The amended law expands the number of individuals empowered to renew pretrial detentions for periods of up to six months to include the president of the Board of Investigation and Prosecution and his designated subordinates. The amended text allows authorities to approve official detentions in excess of six months in “exceptional circumstances,” effectively allowing individuals to be held in pretrial detention indefinitely.
Another amendment to the law extends from three months to six months the deadline for the BIP to gather evidence against the accused and issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest, summons, or detention. This provision is also contained in the new Counterterrorism Law, subject to the approval of the extension by the SCC. Another amendment explicitly allows an individual to represent himself in court.
There was a functioning bail system for less serious criminal charges. Detainees generally did not have the right to obtain a lawyer of their choice. In normal cases the government typically provided lawyers to defendants; however, human rights activists often did not trust the courts to appoint lawyers for them, out of concern the lawyer would be biased.
Incommunicado detention was sometimes a problem. Authorities reportedly did not always respect detainees’ right to contact family members following arrest, and the new Counterterrorism Law, as amended, allows the Ministry of Interior to hold a defendant for up to 90 days in detention without access to family members or legal counsel. Security and some other types of prisoners sometimes remained in detention for long periods before family members or associates received information of their whereabouts, particularly for detainees in Mabahith-run facilities.
Following the April detention of human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al- Khair, his wife, Samar Badawi, reported prison authorities did not grant any of multiple requests to visit her husband (see section 2.a.). Authorities repeatedly transferred Abu al-Khair multiple times while in detention during the year.
On October 31, authorities detained Souad al-Shammary, a Saudi women’s rights and human rights activist. Her detention came after she published remarks on Twitter criticizing Saudi religious clerics. As of year’s end, she remained detained without charge.
In October authorities also detained Hassan al-Maliki, a Saudi secondary school teacher. Al-Maliki was active on Twitter, where he called for sectarian reconciliation and criticized intolerant language contained in Saudi textbooks. As of year’s end, he remained detained without charge.
In response to protests by family members of long-term security detainees, many of whom were suspects held on terrorism or security grounds, in February 2013 the Ministry of Interior created a website designed to connect detainees with their families “for humanitarian reasons.”
According to the ministry, the government provides family members of detainees with user names and passwords to access a website to send emails, make calls, and arrange direct video-conferencing sessions with detainees. Detainees could use the portal to apply for short periods of release to attend family weddings or funerals.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. The law no longer prohibits detention without charge for periods longer than six months, but it permits longer detention with a court order. During the year authorities detained without charge security suspects, persons who publicly criticized the government, Shia religious leaders, and persons who violated religious standards.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Before authorities disestablished them, local officially unlicensed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA) and the Adala Center for Human Rights, challenged the Ministry of Interior publicly and in court on cases considered to involve arbitrary arrest or detention; however, authorities disestablished them, and they ceased operating in 2013 and 2014. ACPRA claimed the ministry sometimes ignored judges’ rulings; judges appeared powerless to take action against the ministry.
There was no available information on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the average length of time held; however, local human rights activists knew of dozens of cases. Human rights activists reportedly received up to three calls per week from families claiming authorities held their relatives arbitrarily.
In March 2013 the Ministry of Interior’s BIP released statistics accounting for those detained on suspicion of terrorism since 2001. The data indicated that of 11,527 such persons arrested, authorities had released 8,755. Of those released, according to the ministry, 551 were foreign nationals and 2,221 were Saudi citizens. Those not released had either been referred to “the competent criminal courts,” or were still “being tried,” according to previous announcements by the ministry. The differences in these legal designations were unclear.
In 2012 the ministry also reportedly paid compensation of 32 million riyals ($8.5 million) to 486 detainees for being detained longer than their jail sentences and provided 529 million riyals ($141 million) in monthly assistance to the families of suspects. During the year the ministry announced it had detained hundreds of additional individuals for terrorist acts following a campaign against alleged material supporters of and ideological sympathizers with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with detentions escalating after July.
In September the ministry reported 1,100 persons involved in terrorist cases “have so far been referred to pertinent courts and around 500 cases have been reviewed and appealed according to legal procedures.” The beginning date for these referrals was not clear.
Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: As of year’s end, three Eritrean military officers who defected to the country in 2012 and 2013 and attempted to claim asylum remained in detention in Jazan. The officers defected in separate incidents in military jets and subsequently claimed human rights abuses in their country; the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Riyadh continued to monitor their cases.
Amnesty: The king continued the tradition of commuting some judicial punishments. The details of the cases varied, but the demonstration of royal pardons sometimes included reducing or eliminating corporal punishment, for example, rather than setting aside the conviction. The remaining sentence could be added to a new sentence if the pardoned prisoner committed a crime subsequent to his release. There were general pardons or grants of amnesty on special occasions throughout the year.
On June 30, the king pardoned and released at least 128 prisoners on the occasion of Ramadan, upon the recommendation of a special committee in charge of studying the cases of prisoners.
Additionally, authorities did not detain some individuals, despite their receiving prison sentences. The February Law on Countering Terrorist Crimes and their Financing contained a provision that allows the interior minister to stop proceedings against an individual who cooperates with investigations or helps thwart a planned terrorist attack. Moreover, the minister can release individuals already convicted on such charges.
In April the NSHR stated 45 percent of crimes addressed by courts were switched to alternative penalties such as community service, religious guidance, and behavioral counseling courses. In June the Reconciliation Committee in Mecca Province issued its annual report, which documented 715 cases in which it successfully secured pardons for prisoners sentenced to death.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides that judges are independent and are subject to no authority other than the provisions of sharia and laws in force. Nevertheless, the judiciary was not independent, as it was required to coordinate its decisions with executive authorities, with the king as final arbiter.
Although public allegations of interference with judicial independence were rare, the judiciary reportedly was subject to influence, particularly in the case of legal decisions rendered by specialized judicial bodies, such as the SCC, which rarely if ever acquitted suspects. Human rights activists reported SCC judges received implicit instructions to issue harsh sentences against human rights activists, reformists, journalists, and dissidents, although they were not engaging in terrorist activities.
On June 16, the Ministry of Justice announced inspectors tasked by the Supreme Judicial Council and the ministry with “verifying judges discipline” in dealing with defendants subjected regular courts to regular and unannounced inspections. In August the government pressed charges against a judge for acquitting a religious teacher convicted for having ties with al-Qaida. There were no reports during the year of courts exercising jurisdiction over senior members of the royal family, and it was not clear whether the judiciary would have jurisdiction in such instances.
In December 2013, however, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz announced he would not pardon an unnamed Saudi prince whom authorities had sentenced to death for his alleged role in the death of a man. The family of the victim in the case had refused to accept diyah or “blood money” as compensation for their relative’s death.
Allegedly there were problems enforcing court orders from courts in the regular court system, particularly against the Ministry of Justice. On August 10, the Ministry of Justice announced electronic linkage of ministerial departments and the Saudi Arabian Monetary Fund designed to increase efficiencies in implementing financial rulings, in particular rulings related to alimony for divorcees and providing child support.
In December 2013, 200 judges sent a letter to the king to complain about the slow pace of reform and the “poor performance” of the Ministry of Justice.
The law states defendants should be treated equally in accordance with sharia. In the absence of a written penal code listing all criminal offenses and punishments, judges in the courts determine many of these penalties by legal interpretations of sharia. The Council of Senior Religious Scholars, an autonomous advisory body, issues religious opinions (fatwas) that guide how judges interpret sharia.
Additionally, sharia is not solely based on precedent. As a result rulings and sentences diverged widely from case to case. According to judicial procedures, appeals courts cannot independently reverse lower court judgments; they are limited to affirming judgments or returning them to a lower court for modification. Even when judges do not affirm judgments, appeals judges, in some cases, return the judgment to the judge who originally authored the opinion.
This procedure sometimes makes it difficult for parties to receive a ruling that differs from the original judgment in cases where judges hesitate to admit error. While judges may base their decisions on any of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, the Hanbali school predominates and forms the basis for the country’s law and legal interpretations of sharia. Shia citizens use their legal traditions to adjudicate family law cases between Shia parties; however, either party can decide to adjudicate a case in state courts, which use Sunni legal tradition.
According to the law, there is neither presumption of innocence nor trial by jury. The law states that court hearings shall be public; however, courts may be closed at the judge’s discretion, and as a result many trials during the year were closed. In December 2013 and throughout the year, foreign diplomatic missions received permission for the first time to attend nonconsular court proceedings (that is, cases to which neither the host nation nor any of its nationals were a party).
To attend, authorities required diplomats to obtain advance written approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, the court administration, and the presiding judge. Authorities sometimes did not permit entry to such trials to individuals other than diplomats who were not the legal agents or family members of the accused. Court officials at the SCC sometimes prevented individuals from attending trial sessions for seemingly trivial reasons, such as banning female relatives from attending due to the absence of women officers to inspect the women upon entry to the courtroom.
According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities may close a trial depending on the sensitivity of the case to national security, the reputation of the defendant, or the safety of witnesses.
Representatives of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Justice, and sometimes representatives of the state-controlled media regularly attended trials at the SCC in Riyadh.
According to the HRC, the government may, at its discretion, provide an attorney to indigents at public expense. November 2013 amendments to the Law of Criminal Procedure strengthened provisions stating authorities will offer defendants a lawyer at government expense. Nevertheless, the new Counterterrorism Law limits the right of defendants to access to legal representation — in cases defined by the government as terrorism — to an unspecified period “before the matter goes to court within a timeframe determined by the investigative entity.”
The law provides defendants the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney during the investigation and trial. There is no right to access government- held evidence. Defendants may request to review evidence and the court decides whether to grant the request. Defendants also have the right to confront or question witnesses against them and call witnesses on their behalf, but the court presents the witnesses.
The law provides that an investigator appointed by the BIP questions the witnesses called by the litigants before the initiation of a trial and may hear testimony of additional witnesses he deems necessary to determine the facts. A defendant may not be compelled to take an oath or be subjected to any coercive measures. The court must inform convicted persons of their right to appeal rulings.
sharia as interpreted by the government extends these provisions to all citizens and noncitizens; however, the law and practice discriminate against women, nonpracticing Sunni, Shia, foreigners, and persons of other religions. For example, judges may discount the testimony of nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, or persons of other religions; sources reported judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia.
Among many reports of irregularities in trial procedures was the case of Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady, a political dissident and founding member of ACPRA. In August 2013, a week after his release following more than two years in detention, authorities re-incarcerated him.
Originally, authorities arrested al- Bajady in 2011 for his leadership role in ACPRA and for publicly demanding political and legal reforms, including calls for a constitutional monarchy in the kingdom and protection for freedom of expression and association. In 2012 authorities sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment and a subsequent five-year international travel ban. During al-Bajady’s trial, the court denied observers access to hearings and refused to allow his lawyer access to the courtroom.
It was unclear whether al-Bajady would be required to serve the remainder of his four-year sentence. In October authorities announced they would retry Bajady before the SCC in relation to his human rights activities. The first hearing in his trial took place on December 18.
In January authorities retried human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair before the SCC after a Jeddah Criminal Court had sentenced him to a three-month prison term on a virtually identical set of charges (see section 2.a.). In May the SCC invalidated a royal amnesty previously given to Qatif activist Fadhil al-Manasif, despite arguments by al-Manasif’s legal counsel that only a royal order could invalidate an amnesty issued by the Royal Diwan.
Judicial authorities permitted local human rights activists and foreign diplomatic personnel with prior permission to attend the trial of Fawzan al-Harbi, whom authorities sentenced on June 25 to seven years in prison and a subsequent seven- year international travel ban for criticizing government authorities. On November 19, authorities detained al-Harbi and announced his resentencing to 10 years in prison subject to appeal.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The number of political prisoners or detainees who reportedly remained in prolonged detention without charge could not be reliably ascertained.
In many cases it was impossible to determine the legal basis for incarceration and whether the detention complied with international norms and standards. Those who remained imprisoned after trial were often convicted of terrorism-related crimes, and there was not sufficient public information about such alleged crimes to judge whether they had a credible claim to being political prisoners. The SCC tried a small number of political prisoners each year for actions unrelated to terrorism or violence against the state.
International NGOs, in particular Amnesty International, criticized the government for abusing its antiterrorism prerogatives to arrest some members of the political opposition. Authorities generally gave security detainees the same protections as other prisoners or detainees. High-profile prisoners generally were well treated. Certain prisoners, held on terrorism-related charges, had the option of participating in government-sponsored rehabilitation programs.
The new Counterterrorism Law allows investigating agencies to order internment in these programs’ rehabilitation facilities of “anyone who is arrested or reported on.” The Counterterrorism Law describes these individuals as those who are “surrounded by suspicions or those who represent a threat . . . as a substitute for arresting or detaining them.” Authorities sometimes restricted legal access to detainees; no international humanitarian organizations had access to them.
On August 13, the SCC sentenced Shia cleric Tawfiq al-Aamer to an eight-year prison term, a subsequent 10-year travel ban, and a ban on publicly delivering sermons or speeches. In July 2013 an appeals court increased his prison sentence from three years in prison to four years and upheld the five-year international travel ban. Authorities detained al-Aamer in 2011 for comments critical of the government and charged him in 2012 with calling for political change, libeling the country’s religious scholars, and collecting illegal religious donations, among other offenses.
On October 15, the SCC sentenced Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr to death based on charges of inciting terrorism and sedition, interfering in the affairs of another country, disobeying the nation’s guardians, attacking security personnel during his arrest, and meeting with wanted criminals.
Authorities detained al-Nimr’s brother, Mohammad al-Nimr, following the conclusion of Nimr al-Nimr’s hearing that same day, presumably for releasing a statement on behalf of the al-Nimr family condemning the sentence and for revealing the details of the sentence to the international press, in contravention of a court order.
In March 2013, the public prosecutor in the BIP asked for Nimr al-Nimr to be sentenced, executed, and his dead body publicly crucified (hiraba). Authorities allowed family members to visit Nimr al-Nimr at Ha’ir prison during the year, where he remained at year’s end.
On May 27, authorities also sentenced Nimr al-Nimr’s nephew, Ali al-Nimr, to death for crimes he allegedly committed when he was a legal minor. Ali al-Nimr alleged authorities tortured him during detention to obtain a confession.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Complainants claiming human rights violations generally sought assistance from the HRC or NSHR, which either advocated on their behalf or provided courts with opinions on their cases. The HRC generally responded to complaints; domestic violence cases were the most common. Individuals or organizations also may petition directly for damages or government action to end human rights violations before the Board of Grievances except in compensation cases related to state security where the SCC handles remediation.
The new Counterterrorism Law contains a provision allowing detainees in Mabahith-run prisons to request financial compensation from the Ministry of Interior for wrongful detention beyond their prison terms.
In some cases the government did not carry out in a timely manner judicially ordered compensation for unlawful detentions. In February 2013 the Specialized Criminal Court awarded Abdulrahman al-Dosary compensation of 350,000 riyals ($93,330) for detention for 102 days in excess of his sentences; however, as of year’s end, the award was not paid.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits unlawful intrusions into the privacy of persons, their homes, places of work, and vehicles. Criminal investigation officers are required to maintain records of all searches conducted; these records should contain the name of the officer conducting the search, the text of the search warrant (or an explanation of the urgency that necessitated the search without a warrant), and the names and signatures of the persons who were present at the time of search.
While the law also provides for the privacy of all mail, telegrams, telephone conversations, and other means of communication, the government did not respect the privacy of correspondence or communications, and the government used the considerable latitude provided by law to monitor activities legally and intervene where it deemed necessary.
There were reports from human rights activists of governmental monitoring or blocking mobile telephone or Internet usage before planned demonstrations. The government strictly monitored politically related activities and took punitive actions, including arrest and detention, against persons who engaged in certain political activities, such as direct public criticism of some senior royals by name, forming a political party, or organizing a demonstration.
Customs officials reportedly routinely opened mail and shipments to search for contraband. In some areas Ministry of Interior informants allegedly reported “seditious ideas,” “antigovernment activity,” or “behavior contrary to Islam” in their neighborhoods.
The CPVPV monitored and regulated public interaction between members of the opposite sex. On February 26, Tabuk governorate ordered members of the CPVPV in their jurisdiction not to contact women’s families when they arrested them for “moral cases,” which included those involving contact with the opposite sex. The governorate claimed reporting these cases “prematurely” would create problems for the women and render them unable to marry.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Civil law does not protect human rights, including freedoms of speech and of the press; only local interpretation and the practice of sharia protect these rights. There were frequent reports of restrictions on free speech. The Basic Law specifies “mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation, and strengthen unity.
The media is prohibited from committing acts that lead to disorder and division, affect the security of the state or its public relations, or undermine human dignity and rights.” Authorities are responsible for regulating and determining which speech or expression undermines internal security.
On February 1, the Law for Crimes of Terrorism and Terrorist-Financing (CT law) went into effect following its approval by the Council of Ministers in December 2013. For the first time, the law officially defines and criminalizes terrorism and terrorist financing in the criminal code; however, the legal definition of terrorism is extremely broad, defining a terrorist crime (in part) as “any act . . .intended to disturb the public order of the state . . .or insult the reputation of the state or its position.”
Saudi human rights activists and international human rights organizations criticized the law for its vague definition of terrorism and complained that the government could use it to prosecute peaceful dissidents for “insulting the state.” The new CT law allows the Ministry of Interior to access a terrorism suspect’s banking information and private communications in a manner inconsistent with the legal protections provided by criminal procedure law.
On February 3, a subsequent royal decree set prison sentences for broadly defined terrorist crimes for the first time in the criminal code.
The Press and Publications Law states violators can be fined up to 500,000 riyals ($133,000) for each violation of the law, which is doubled if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing. Formally, the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Culture and Information has responsibility for the law; however, sharia court judges, who consider these issues regularly, exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law, which made it unclear which expression accords with the law.
Government-friendly ownership of print or broadcast media led to self-censorship, and there was relatively little need for overt government action to restrict freedom of expression. The government, however, could not rely on self-censoring in social media and the Internet. Accordingly, to control information it monitored and blocked certain Internet sites.
On a number of occasions, government officials and senior clerics publicly warned against inaccurate reports on the Internet and reminded the public that criticism of the government and its officials should be done through available private channels. The government charged those using the Internet to express dissent with subversion, blasphemy, and apostasy.
Freedom of Speech: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and took advantage of legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict those verging on the political sphere. The government prohibits public employees from directly or indirectly engaging in dialogue with local or foreign media or participating in any meetings intended to oppose state policies.
The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which legally can carry the death penalty, although there have not been any recent instances of death sentences for these crimes. Statements authorities construed as constituting defamation of the king, monarchy, governing system, or the al-Saud family resulted in criminal charges for several Saudis advocating government reform.
The government charged a number of individuals with crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year. On July 6, the SCC sentenced lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abu Al-Khair to a 15-year prison term, a subsequent 15-year international travel ban, and a 200,000 riyal ($53,300) fine for activities related to his human rights work.
These activities included public calls for reform, criticisms of government policies and officials, and his role in founding an unlicensed NGO, the Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. In January the Jeddah Criminal Court sentenced Abu al-Khair to a three-month prison term on a nearly identical list of charges; however, in late January the Ministry of Interior remanded the case to the SCC to be retried.
Following the July judgment, Abu al- Khair announced he would not appeal his judgment since he refused to recognize the legitimacy of the SCC, a tribunal ostensibly created to deal with terrorism cases, to handle his case, and he did not want to lend legitimacy to the SCC or its proceedings. The government has prosecuted and intermittently detained al-Khair since 2011 for criticizing the government. Additionally, the government banned him from travel starting in 2011.
In December 2013 the Buraydah Criminal Court sentenced Umar al-Sa’id, a member of ACPRA, to 300 lashes and four years in prison for calling for a constitutional monarchy and criticizing the country’s human rights record; however, authorities subsequently reversed his sentence and ordered that he be retried before the SCC. As of year’s end, al-Sa’id remained at Buraydah prison in al-Qassim Province.
In October authorities referred the case of Abdulaziz al-Shobaily to the SCC for prosecution. Al-Shobaily was active on Twitter and published comments critical of the government. He was also a member of ACPRA.
On September 1, the Jeddah Court of Appeals affirmed an earlier judgment by the court on May 7 sentencing Ra’if Badawi to a 10-year prison term and 1,000 lashes following Badawi’s decision to appeal his July 2013 sentence of a seven-year prison term and 600 lashes. The judgment also banned Badawi from international travel for 10 years after completing his prison term and banned him from corresponding with international media.
The Appeals Court ruled that Badawi violated Islamic values, violated sharia, committed blasphemy, and mocked religious symbols on the Internet. The presiding judge in the original case ordered the Internet forum closed, although it had been inactive since 2012. A human rights activist and the founder of the online social forum Saudi Liberals Network, Badawi was detained by authorities in 2012 after his father charged him with “disobedience” in connection with the online forum. At year’s end Badawi remained in custody in Burayman prison in Jeddah and was still awaiting administration of court-ordered lashes.
Press Freedoms: The Press and Publications Law, which extends explicitly to Internet communications, governs printed materials; printing presses; bookstores; the import, rental, and sale of films; television and radio; and foreign media offices and their correspondents. In 2011 a royal decree amended the law to strengthen penalties and created a special commission to judge violations.
The decree bans publishing anything “contradicting sharia; inciting disruption; serving foreign interests that contradict national interests; and damaging the reputation of the Grand Mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or senior government officials.” The Ministry of Culture and Information may permanently close “whenever necessary” any means of communication — defined as any means of expressing any viewpoint that is meant for circulation — that it deems is engaged in a prohibited activity as set forth in the 2011 royal decree.
Because of their self-censorship, print and media authorities did not frequently prosecute print and broadcast media. The government owned most print and broadcast media and book publication facilities in the country, and members of the royal family owned or influenced privately owned and nominally independent operations, including various media outlets and widely circulated pan-Arab newspapers such as Ash-Sharq al-Awsat and al-Hayat. The government owned, operated, and censored most domestic television and radio outlets.
Satellite dish usage was widespread. Although satellite dishes were technically illegal, the government did not enforce restrictions on satellite dishes. Access to foreign sources of information, including the Internet, was common, but the government blocked access to some Internet sites it considered objectionable. Privately owned satellite television networks headquartered outside the country maintained local offices and operated under a system of self-censorship.
Many foreign satellite stations broadcast a wide range of programs into the country, in English and Arabic, including foreign news channels such as CNN, Fox, BBC, Sky, and al-Jazeera. Foreign media were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Culture and Information and could not operate freely.
The Ministry of Culture and Information must approve the appointment of all senior editors and has authority to remove them. The government provides guidelines to newspapers regarding controversial issues. A 1982 media policy statement urges journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. The Saudi Press Agency reported official government news.
In February, the Saudi Gazette, a prominent English-language daily print and online newspaper, appointed Somayya Jabarti, a Saudi woman, to the position of editor in chief. Jabarti is the first woman to lead a Saudi newspaper.
All newspapers in the country must be government-licensed. Media outlets legally can be banned or have their publication temporarily halted if the government concludes they violated the Press and Publications Law.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists to arrests, imprisonment, and harassment during the year. On March 4, the SCC of Appeals upheld the sentences of two journalists from the Eastern Province, Habib Ali al- Maatiq and Hussein Malik al-Salam, and increased their prison terms to two years and five years, respectively. Authorities originally detained the two journalists in 2012; they had reported on protests in Qatif for the Al-Fajr Cultural Network news websites.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government owned, operated, and censored most domestic television and radio outlets. The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored the media by licensing domestic media and by controlling importation of foreign printed material. Authorities prevented or delayed the distribution of foreign print media, effectively censoring these publications. In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions.
On January 7, the government banned Ali Al al- Yani, a television anchor, from his talk show on Rotana Khalijia TV, a private channel owned by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. Authorities banned Al al-Yani after he interviewed Abdulaziz al-Otaishan, a member of the Consultative Council, the country’s unelected parliament, during which al-Otaishan criticized the government’s decision to send 11.25 billion riyals (approximately three billion dollars) in military aid to Lebanon without seeking approval from the Consultative Council.
The Consultative Council (Majlis as-Shura), an advisory body, frequently allowed print and broadcast media to observe its proceedings and meetings, but the council closed some high-profile or controversial sessions to the media.
Libel Laws/National Security: There were no reports during the year of the government using libel laws to suppress publication of material that criticized policies or public officials.
There were government restrictions on access to the Internet and credible reports the government monitored e-mails and Internet chat rooms. Activists complained of monitoring or attempted monitoring of their communications on web-based communications applications. Internet access was widely available to and used by citizens of the country.
The Press and Publications Law implicitly covers electronic media, since it extends to any means of expression of a viewpoint meant for circulation, ranging from words to cartoons, photographs, and sounds. In 2011 the government issued “Implementing Regulations for Electronic Publishing,” setting rules for Internet-based and other electronic media, including chat rooms, personal blogs, and text messages. Security authorities actively monitored Internet activity.
The Press and Publications Law criminalizes the publication or downloading of offensive sites. The governmental Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) filtered and blocked access to websites it deemed offensive, including pages calling for political, social, or economic reforms or human rights.
In addition to blocking the websites of local and international human rights NGOs in the country, during the year authorities also blocked access to the websites of expatriate Saudi dissidents such as Ali al-Demainy and the website for the October 26 Women’s Driving Campaign. Security regulations require Internet cafe owners to install cameras and maintain records on their users.
The Ministry of Culture and Information or its agencies must authorize all websites registered and hosted in the country. During the year the government created a General Commission for Audiovisual Media and assigned the new entity responsibility for regulating all audio and video content in the country, including satellite channels, film, music, Internet, and mobile applications, independent from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
The CITC dealt with requests to block adult content and coordinated decisions with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency on blocking phishing sites seeking to obtain confidential personal or financial information. Under the Telecommunication Act, failure by service providers to block banned sites can result in a fine of five million riyals ($1.33 million).
Authorities submitted all other requests to block sites to an interagency committee, chaired by the Ministry of Interior, for a decision to block a site or not. In addition to designating unacceptable sites, the CITC accepted requests from citizens to block or unblock sites. According to the CITC, authorities received an average of 200 requests daily to block and unblock sites.
On August 17, the CPVPV confirmed it actively coordinated with the CITC to block pornography and websites that promoted unorthodox or “ill informed” views on religion. According to HRW independent security researchers in June identified surveillance software that appeared to target individuals in Qatif in the Eastern Province, where a large proportion of the kingdom’s Shia religious minority live. The researchers discovered an altered version of an application for mobile phones, which, if installed, would allow the government to access information, including call history, e-mail, and text messaging.
According to the NGO Reporters Without Borders, authorities claimed to have blocked cumulatively approximately 400,000 websites. The CITC claimed Facebook removed materials the CITC deemed offensive, but Twitter ignored all CITC requests. On October 21, Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh described Twitter as “the repository of scourge and evil and the source of lies and falsehoods.”
In June 2013 authorities banned Viber, a proprietary cross-platform, voice-over- Internet protocol application developed primarily for use on smart phones, for its failure to meet domestic “regulatory requirements.” As of December Viber was again accessible in the country without the use of a virtual private network despite the official ban.