The United States Department of State & Human Rights Watch – 2016-01-06 00:54:06
A 2013 announcement had warned the CITC would “take appropriate action” against other applications or services, including Skype and WhatsApp, if the proprietary services did not allow the government “lawful access” for monitoring purposes.
Access to the Internet was legally available only through government-authorized Internet service providers. Although the authorities blocked websites offering proxies, persistent Internet users accessed the unfiltered Internet via other means. In February, the CITC blocked access in the country to 41 local news websites for failing to obtain the requisite licensing and permissions from the Ministry of Culture and Information.
On June 6, Rasid, an online newspaper based in Qatif in the Eastern Province, ceased operation. The last message posted on Rasid’s website did not cite a reason for the closure but said the website was never meant to be an opposition website, but rather a news site that honestly reported on facts. Activists claimed Rasid likely closed due to the new CT law. Rasid frequently reported local events, including protests and arrests of members of the Shia community in the Eastern Province.
Laws criminalize defamation on the Internet, hacking, unauthorized access to government websites, and stealing information related to national security, as well as the creation or dissemination of a website for a terrorist organization. The government reportedly collected personally identifiable information concerning the identity of persons peacefully expressing political, religious, or ideological opinions or beliefs.
On October 27, a court sentenced lawyer Abdulrahman al- Subaihi to eight years in prison and lawyers Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih to five years in prison for “undermining and slandering the judicial system” via critical tweets and for “disobeying the ruler.” Authorities also imposed international travel bans and restricted their postings on social media.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government censored public artistic expression, prohibited cinemas, and restricted public musical or theatrical performances apart from those considered folkloric and special events approved by the government. Academics reportedly practiced self-censorship, and authorities prohibited professors and administrators at public universities from hosting meetings at their universities with foreign academics or diplomats without prior government permission.
In January the Ministry of Interior issued a directive banning hotels, festival halls, and commercial centers from organizing graphic arts or photography exhibits. The ministry directive stated the Ministry of Culture and Information and other security departments must clear the opening of such exhibits.
On July 3, the SCC of Appeals confirmed a lower court sentence against Mekhlef al-Shammary, a Saudi activist from Khobar in the Eastern Province who organized a weekly salon that brought together academics and Shia and Sunni religious figures to discuss reconciliation efforts in the kingdom. In June 2013 the SCC sentenced al-Shammary to a five-year prison term for “stirring up dissent” against the government.
Additionally, the court sentenced al-Shammary to a 10-year international travel ban. On November 3, the Khobar Criminal Court sentenced al-Shammary to two years in prison and 200 lashes on a second set of charges that include hosting reformists for private dinners and gatherings at his home. Al- Shammary ceased publishing human rights commentary on his social media accounts following the confirmation of the first sentence.
On October 28, local and regional press reported a court sentenced a Saudi man to two years in prison and 500 lashes for hosting a mixed-gender concert. Authorities sentenced five male attendees to eight months in prison and 99 lashes. Authorities also detained 15 women; it is unclear if authorities punished them.
In December local press reported police arrested a women who dressed in men’s clothing to be able to attend a soccer match (women are banned from soccer stadiums, except for FIFA-sponsored events because FIFA rules mandate entry of men and women).
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law does not provide for freedom of assembly and association, which the government strictly limited.
Freedom of Assembly
The law requires a government permit for an organized public assembly of any type. The government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies. Security forces reportedly arrested demonstrators and detained them for brief periods.
As in 2013 security forces allowed a small number of unauthorized demonstrations throughout the country, despite a 2011 Ministry of Interior statement that demonstrations were banned and that it would take “all necessary measures” against those seeking to “disrupt order;” demonstrations were less frequent during the year. In 2011 the Council of Senior Religious Scholars reinforced the government’s stance, stating, “demonstrations are prohibited in this country” and explaining that “the correct way in sharia of realizing common interests is by advising.”
Throughout the year authorities continued to allow occasional small demonstrations in the Eastern Province city of Qatif. Activists reported security forces used intimidation to discourage persons from joining demonstrations as a general practice. There were also reports of security forces firing bullets in the air to disperse crowds. Videos posted on YouTube portrayed residents, largely Shia, protesting alleged systematic discrimination and neglect in public investment while showing antigovernment slogans written on walls.
In contrast to previous years, there were no significant protests by family members of long-term detainees in Mabahith-run prisons. Most protests during the year occurred in the Eastern Province, although the size and number of protests decreased significantly over 2013. On the night of October 15, demonstrators held several peaceful marches in the Qatif area to protest the death sentence of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Observers estimated the largest of these had 500 attendees. There were no reported arrests or clashes with security personnel.
Freedom of Association
The law does not provide for freedom of association, and the government strictly limited this right. The government prohibited the establishment of political parties or any group it considered as opposing or challenging the regime. All associations must be licensed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and comply with its regulations. Some groups that advocated changing elements of the social or political order reported their licensing requests went unanswered for years despite repeated inquiries.
The ministry reportedly used arbitrary means, such as requiring unreasonable types and quantities of information, effectively denying licenses to associations. As of year’s end, the Council of Ministers had not acted on a proposed law on NGOs, which the Consultative Council endorsed in 2008. The law only provides for the establishment of philanthropic and charitable societies. Organizations that have social or research mandates require royal backing to avoid government interference or prosecution.
During the year ACPRA effectively ceased operations as a result of the continued harassment, investigation, prosecution, or detention of most of its members. While ACPRA maintained a presence on social media networks such as Twitter, the government severely curtailed its operations and closed down its website.
In March the Adala Center for Human Rights, based in the Eastern Province, announced the temporary suspension of its activities. Adala specifically referenced the new CT law and implementing regulations, which it said authorities could use to press charges against human rights activists, as the reason for suspending its activities. The Adala Center also said it dropped its intention to continue litigation against the Ministry of Social Affairs for the ministry’s failure to issue Adala a license to operate an NGO legally.
In August 2013 a court in Dammam in Eastern Province had dismissed a lawsuit by the founders of the Adala Center against the Ministry of Social Affairs for failing to license the NGO. Later in August the courts rejected the group’s petition for an appeal. The ministry successfully argued its refusal to license the Adala Center, which had operated since 2011, was lawful on the basis the law permits the ministry to register only NGOs that are philanthropic or charitable in nature.
The 2013 court decision said the Adala Center’s charter and governing documents were incompatible with Saudi law because they referred to international law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Government-chartered associations observed citizen-only limitations. For example, the Saudi Journalists Association, operating under a government charter, prohibited noncitizen members from voting and from attending the association’s general assembly.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law does not contain provisions for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally cooperated with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In July the government contributed 330 million riyals ($88 million) to the United Nations to support humanitarian aid for internally displaced and conflict-affected persons in Iraq.
In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country, but it severely restricted the movement of female citizens. Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card (NIC). The law requires all male citizens 15 years old or older to possess an NIC.
In 2012, the Ministry of Interior announced it would start issuing NICs to all female citizens at 15 years of age, phasing in the requirement over a seven-year period. In September 2013 the ministry stated it had issued only 1.5 million NICs since 2002 to women; the country’s female population was approximately 9.8 million.
The guardianship system requires a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely in the country. The government prohibited women from driving motor vehicles.
On July 16, authorities arrested women’s rights activist Aliya al-Fareed in the town of Safwa in al-Qatif governorate in Eastern Province for driving without a license. Despite her husband refusal to sign a pledge to prevent her from engaging in similar activity in the future, traffic police released al-Fareed the same day and fined her 1,110 riyal ($295).
In October 2013 between 41 and 80 women reportedly drove in a number of cities throughout the country in defiance of the prohibitions on women driving despite an October 2013 Ministry of Interior statement authorities would punish violators of the law. In October 2013 police stopped between 15 and 20 women for driving; authorities fined each 300 riyal ($80).
Police required each woman driver and her male guardian to pledge to “respect the kingdom’s laws” before releasing them. In contrast to October 2013, when up to 20 women were stopped for driving, instances of such violations were rare during the year. On the eve of the October 2013 protest first anniversary, the Ministry of Interior issued a warning for women not to engage in a similar campaign.
On December 1, authorities detained Loujain al-Hathloul at a Saudi-United Arab Emirates (UAE) border crossing. Al-Hathloul, who possessed a Gulf Cooperation Council driver license issued in the UAE, drove herself to the crossing. Authorities later arrested Maysaa Alamoudi, a UAE-based Saudi journalist and supporter of al-Hathloul, when Alamoudi drove herself onto Saudi territory to bring food to al-Hathloul.
On December 13, al-Hathloul’s family announced that authorities told them she would be held for another 25 days. In late December the local criminal court in al-Ahsa dismissed charges against al-Hathloul and Alamoudi and indicated that their cases would be transferred to the SCC, a court that has previously tried activists.
Foreign Travel: There are severe restrictions on foreign travel, including for women and members of minority groups. No one may leave the country without an exit visa and a passport. Women under the age of 45, minors (men younger than 21), and other dependents or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a male guardian’s consent to travel abroad.
A noncitizen wife needs permission from her husband to travel unless both partners sign a prenuptial agreement permitting the noncitizen wife to travel without the husband’s permission. Government entities and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children, prohibiting their travel. The male guardian is legally able in custody disputes to prevent even adult children from leaving the country.
In 2012 the Ministry of Interior began allowing male citizens to use the ministry’s website to register electronic travel permits for their dependents and sponsored workers. Previously, applicants could request travel permits only from branches of the Directorate of Passports, and dependents had to present the permits to passport officers upon exiting the country.
As part of the new Internet-based system, authorities notify all registrants by text message to their cell phone whenever a dependent or sponsored foreign citizen worker exits or enters the country; however, in January the Directorate of Passports suspended operation of the system. As of year’s end, whether the government would reactivate it was not known.
Employers or sponsors controlled the departure of foreign workers and residents from the country; employers/sponsors were responsible for processing residence permits and exit visas on their behalf. Sponsors frequently held their employees’ passports against the desires of the employees, despite a law specifically prohibiting this practice.
Typically, foreign workers provide sponsors with their residence permit (iqama) before traveling in exchange for their passport to ensure the worker’s return to their employer after their travel. The government continued to impose international travel bans as part of criminal sentences. The government on occasion reportedly confiscated passports and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel for political reasons but often did not provide them with notification or opportunity to contest the restriction.
During the year the government banned at least 15 individuals engaged in human rights activism or political activities from foreign travel, in addition to hundreds of other travel bans promulgated by the courts. These included Shia cleric Tawfiq al- Aamer, human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, and activists Umar al-Sa’id and Mohammad al-Otaibi.
Judges routinely sentenced human rights activists, such as Ra’if Badawi and Fadhil al-Manasif, to lengthy foreign travel bans to take effect upon completion of their prison terms. In June a justice ministry report said 13 courts had issued 715 travel ban sentences since the beginning of 2013. Reportedly, most travel bans involved individuals in court cases relating to financial and real estate disputes.
Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides that the “state will grant political asylum if public interest so dictates.” There are no regulations implementing this provision, and the UNHCR managed refugee and asylum matters. The government permitted UNHCR-recognized refugees to stay in the country temporarily pending identification of a durable solution.
The government generally did not grant asylum or accept refugees for resettlement from third countries. Government policy is not to grant refugee status to persons in the country illegally, including those who have overstayed a pilgrimage visa. The government strongly encouraged persons without residency to leave, and it threatened or imposed deportation. Access to naturalization was difficult for refugees.
As of October, 559 refugees registered with the UNHR, and 99 individuals applied for asylum during the year. The majority of asylum seekers were Iraqi and Syrian nationals, with smaller numbers of Eritreans.
Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers were unable to work legally.
Access to Basic Services: The government reserves for citizens only access to education, health care, public housing, courts and judicial procedures, legal services, and other social services. The UNHCR office in Riyadh provided a subsistence allowance covering basic services to a limited number of vulnerable families based on a needs assessment.
In July, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Syrian nationals in the kingdom who overstayed their visas as a result of the conflict in Syria would have the right to work despite their lack of formal residency status. The policy paper also announced Syrian nationals in these circumstances would have access to government-run medical facilities and school age children would have access to government-run schools. The UNHCR worked with the government to refer Syrians to government authorities for medical treatment following a needs assessment.
The country had a significant number of habitual residents who are legally stateless, but data on the stateless population were incomplete and scarce.
Legally, citizenship is derived from the father, but several scenarios lead to stateless children:
a child born to an unmarried mother is not affiliated with the father legally, even if the father has recognized the child, and, therefore, is stateless;
when identification documents are withdrawn from a parent, the child also loses legal identification and accompanying rights (possible when a naturalized parent denaturalizes voluntarily or loses citizenship through other acts);
children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father are without nationality, unless they acquire citizenship from the father;
and children of a citizen father and a noncitizen mother are noncitizens, unless the government has authorized the marriage of the parents prior to birth.
Additionally, when government authorities withdraw a citizen’s NIC, his or her children also lose their citizenship (see section 6, Children).
In September 2013 the government clarified regulations governing the status of non-Saudi men married to Saudi women. Male spouses of female citizens are entitled to permanent residency in the kingdom without needing a sponsor, and they receive free government education and medical benefits. These spouses also are entitled to count towards the “Nitaqaat” or Saudization percentage in the private sector, which improves their employment prospects. Non-Saudi wives of Saudi men in the kingdom receive more rights if they have children resulting from their marriage with a Saudi man than if they do not.
The UNHCR unofficially estimated there were 70,000 stateless persons in the country, almost all of whom were native-born Arab residents known locally as bidoon (an Arabic word that means “without” [citizenship]).
Bidoon are persons whose ancestors failed to obtain nationality, such as descendants of nomadic tribes not counted among the native tribes during the reign of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz; descendants of foreign-born fathers who arrived before there were laws regulating citizenship; and rural migrants whose parents failed to register their births.
As noncitizens, bidoon are unable to obtain passports or travel abroad. The government sometimes denied them employment and educational opportunities, and their marginalized status made them among the poorest residents of the country. In recent years the Ministry of Education encouraged them to attend school. The government issues bidoon five-year residency permits to facilitate their social integration in government-provided health care and other services, putting them on similar footing with sponsored foreign workers.
Additionally, in August the General Directorate of Passports began to issue special identity cards to bidoon similar to residency permits issued to foreigners in the country but with features entitling their holders to additional government services similar to those available to Saudi nationals.
There were also some Baloch, West Africans, and Rohingya Muslims from Burma; however, only a portion of these communities was stateless. For example, many Rohingya had expired passports their home government refused to renew. The UNHCR estimated there were between 250,000 to 500,000 Rohingya in the kingdom; some of these individuals benefited from a program to correct their residency status during the year; the government issued approximately 200,000 four-year residency permits by year’s end.
Only an estimated 2,000 individuals of Rohingya origin had Saudi citizenship. There also were between 300,000 and 400,000 Palestinian residents not registered as refugees, as well as between 750,000 and one million Syrian nationals in the kingdom, although most of these arrived prior to the 2011 outbreak of the conflict in Syria.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights:
The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law does not provide citizens the ability to change their government peacefully and establishes an absolute monarchy led by the Al Saud family as the political system. The law provides citizens the right to communicate with public authorities on any matter and establishes the government on the principle of consultation (shura).
The king and senior officials, including ministers and regional governors, are required to be available by holding meetings (majlis), open-door events where in theory any male citizen or noncitizen may express an opinion or a grievance without the need for an appointment.
Most government ministries and agencies had women’s sections to interact with female citizens and noncitizens, and at least two regional governorates hired female employees to receive women’s petitions and arrange meetings for women with complaints for, or requests of, the governor. Only a few members of the ruling family have a voice in the choice of leaders, the composition of the government, or changes to the political system. The Allegiance Commission, composed of up to 35 senior princes appointed by the king, is responsible for selecting a king and crown prince upon the death or incapacitation of either.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: On September 16, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs issued a decision extending the term of the current municipal councils, elected in 2011, by two years. The current elected councils were scheduled to end their terms on September 2, 2015, but now are expected to continue until September 2017. In 2011, following a two-year postponement, the government held elections for the second time since 1963 for the country’s 285 municipal councils. Elected candidates filled half of the 1,632 seats, while the king appointed the other half.
As in the first elections in 2005, participation was limited to civilian male citizens at least 21 years old. Uniformed members of the security forces, including the military and police, were ineligible to vote. According to the Municipal Council Elections Committee, there was no legal prohibition against women voting; however, as in 2005 the committee cited logistical and other technical reasons to explain why women were not allowed to vote or run for office.
More than 1,700 lawyers from the National Committee of Lawyers monitored the elections nationally, and the organization assessed the elections were fair and transparent. The NSHR, however, refused to observe the elections, protesting women’s ineligibility to vote or seek election. Election regulations prohibited candidates from contesting under party affiliation.
Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no political parties or similar associations. The law does not protect the right of individuals to organize politically. The new CT law, issued in February, explicitly banned a number of organizations that also have political wings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as regional and local terrorist groups. The government continued to regard human rights organizations, such as ACPRA, as illegal political movements and treated them accordingly.
In April the government-controlled press cited plans by the Ministry of Justice to exclude lawyers from practicing law if they proved to be members of organizations and parties that “incriminated” the government. The statute governing the practice of the legal profession in the kingdom states authorities may terminate a lawyer’s license if a court sentenced the lawyer for a “dishonorable or dishonest crime.”
Participation of Women and Minorities: Discrimination excluded women from many aspects of public life, including from formal decision-making positions. Nevertheless, women increasingly participated in political life, albeit with significantly less status than men.
In January 2013 the king issued a royal decree changing the governance of the Consultative Council, the 150-person royally appointed body that advises the king and can propose laws. The changes mandate women constitute no less than 20 percent of the membership of the Consultative Council. In accordance with the law, the council inducted 30 women as full members in February 2013.
On February 18, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs announced in its regulations governing the next municipal council elections women will have the right to contest the elections “without discrimination,” reaffirming a There were no women on the High Court or Supreme Judicial Council; women’s ability to practice law is severely limited. There were no women judges or public prosecutors. The government continued to issue licenses to Saudi female lawyers.
In June, the Ministry of Justice granted licenses to 20 Saudi women, which allowed them to practice law and represent clients in court, in addition to four women granted licenses in October 2013. The ministry also granted 10 women “trainee lawyer” licenses, which will allow them to obtain a full license after the required three years of legal experience.
There were two women in senior-level government positions, as deputy minister for women’s education and general supervisor for women’s higher education, in addition to senior advisors in multiple ministries. The country had an increasing number of female diplomats. Bureaucratic procedures largely restricted women working in the security services to employment in female prisons, at women’s universities, and in clerical positions in police stations where they were responsible for visually identifying other women for law enforcement purposes.
No laws prevent male minorities from participating in political life on the same basis as other male citizens. Societal discrimination marginalized the Shia population. Tribal factors and longstanding traditions continued to dictate many individual appointments to positions.
Unofficially, government authorities will not appoint a Bedouin tribesman to a high-ranking cabinet-level position, and Bedouins can only reach the rank of major general in the armed forces. All members of the cabinet who were tribal were not members of Bedouin tribes but urbanized “Hamael” tribes. Exceptions are sometimes made when a person marries into the Al Saud family.
While the religious affiliation of Consultative Council members was not known publicly, the council included an estimated seven or eight Shia members. In contrast to previous years, the cabinet contained one religious minority member. On June 28, the king appointed Mohammad bin Faisal Abu Saq, a Shiite, as minister of state and member of the cabinet for consultative council affairs.
Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia are concentrated, had large proportions of Shia as members to reflect the local population, including a majority in Qatif and 50 percent in al-Hasa. Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts during the year.
Additionally, according to Eastern Province observers, in areas populated by Sunni and Shia, since the government appoints half of the seats on municipal councils, it frequently appointed members of either sect to councils to ensure equitable sectarian representation.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. The government did not implement the law effectively, some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and perceptions of corruption persisted in some sectors.
Government employees who accept bribes face 10 years in prison or fines up to one million riyals ($267,000). The National Anticorruption Commission (Nazaha), established by the king in 2011, was responsible for promoting transparency and combating all forms of financial and administrative corruption. The government resourced the commission adequately; it issued numerous publications and undertook awareness campaigns on the religious necessity to combat corruption, both governmental and business.
The commission’s ministerial-level director reported directly to the king. In January the Nazaha reported it had investigated and followed up on 10,479 reports of graft and financial irregularities and 2,620 cases of corruption during 2013. During the year the commission actively campaigned against corruption and had a hotline for reporting such abuses. The CIB, however, remains responsible for investigating financial malfeasance, and the BIP has the lead on all criminal investigations.
In November, the Nazaha issued a report criticizing cabinet ministers and top government officials for impeding the commission’s work and not cooperating with corruption investigations; however, the report did not specifically name any officials. The Human Rights Council also responded to and researched complaints of corruption. Provincial governors and other members of the royal family paid compensation to victims of corruption during weekly majlis meetings where citizens raised complaints.
Corruption: On August 27, the National Anticorruption Commission (Nazaha) announced it had completed an investigation of allegations the director of the urban planning department at the Eastern Province municipality accepted 6.3 million riyals ($1.7 million) in bribes, in cooperation with other corrupt officials from the municipality. The official requested financial kickbacks in exchange for the municipality approving acquisition and rezoning plots of land. At year’s end, however, it was not clear whether authorities had officially reprimanded the official or brought a lawsuit against him.
On October 19, the Jeddah Administration Court convicted two former officials of the Jeddah municipal government of misuse of position in a case related to the 2009-10 Jeddah floods. The two former employees allegedly accepted bribes for making certain decisions relating to planning for a floodwater drainage system in a residential area. The court sentenced one official to six months in jail, while the second received a four-year prison term.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws.
Public Access to Information: The law does not provide for, and there is no right to, public access to government information, such as ministerial budgets or allocations to members of the royal family.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country but allowed representatives to visit on a limited basis. There were no transparent standards governing visits by international NGO representatives. The law provides that “the State shall protect human rights in accordance with the Islamic sharia“; the government restricted the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations.
The government often cooperated with and sometimes accepted the recommendations of the NSHR, the sole government-licensed domestic human rights organization. The NSHR accepted requests for assistance and complaints about government actions affecting human rights.
The government viewed unlicensed human rights groups with suspicion, frequently blocking their websites and charging their founders with founding and operating an unlicensed organization. ACPRA applied for a license in 2008, which was not granted; however, the government allowed its unlicensed operation.
Since the group was formally “unlicensed,” it remained unclear which activities the group could undertake without risking punishment. Without a license the group was unable to raise operating funds legally, which limited its activities, and a March 2013 court order ordered disestablishment of the group and confiscation of its assets. Following the issuance of the new CT law in March, the Adala Center for Human Rights (a human rights NGO based in Eastern Province), announced that it would cease operations (see section 2.b.).
The Human Rights Commission stated the government welcomed visits by legitimate, unbiased human rights groups, but added the government could not act on the “hundreds of requests,” in part because it was cumbersome to decide which domestic agencies would be their interlocutor.
On September 9, the SCC of Appeals upheld the sentence by a lower-court judge at the SCC on April 17, sentencing Fadhil bin Mekki al-Manasif to a 15-year prison term, a subsequent 15-year foreign travel ban, and a 100,000 riyal ($26,600) fine. Subsequently, the SCC of Appeals reduced al-Manasif’s sentence and travel ban to 14 years.
During al-Manasif’s conviction hearing in April, the presiding judge ruled that following a 2009 amnesty granted by King Abdullah to Shia activists, al- Manasif’s “repeated failure to abide by earlier promises” not to engage in activism invalidated the earlier amnesty and left him open to prosecution based on his earlier acts.
The Board of Investigation and Prosecution originally charged al- Manasif with five offenses related to human rights work including “participation in the formation of the illicit organization ‘the Human Rights Activists’ Network,” a related Eastern Province human rights group; however, he was not found guilty of assaulting two security vehicles during a 2011 demonstration in the Eastern Province. As of year’s end, al-Manasif remained in detention.
During the year nine of the original 11 founders of ACPRA remained imprisoned as a result of their participation in the founding of the organization. On May 22, the Buraidah Criminal Court forwarded the case of ACPRA founder Abdulkarim al-Khedhr to the SCC for further prosecution.
In June 2013, the Buraidah Criminal Court sentenced al-Khedhr to an eight-year prison term (of which three years took immediate effect) and conditioned the remaining five years on a pledge not to engage in activism.
On June 25, the Riyadh Criminal Court sentenced ACPRA founder Fawzan al- Harbi to a seven-year prison term for his role in the organization and for his criticism of government policies and senior officials. On November 19, despite not being apprehended immediately after the conclusion of the original trial in June, authorities detained al-Harbi after the Riyadh Criminal Court of Appeals recommended he be detained and his sentence be increased to 10 years. The court’s justification for the increased sentence was that al-Harbi had published court documents relating to his original case.
The courts had already convicted five other individuals affiliated with the organization. These include Mohammed al-Bajady (sentenced in 2012 to a four- year prison term) and Suleiman al-Rashoodi (sentenced in 2011 and detained in 2012 to serve a 15-year prison sentence).
In March 2013, at the conclusion of the trial of Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, the Riyadh Criminal Court ordered the immediate dissolution of ACPRA along with the confiscation of its assets and the closure of its website and social media accounts. The court sentenced Al-Qahtani and al-Hamid to 11- and 10-year prison terms respectively.
In December 2013 the Buraidah Criminal Court sentenced ACPRA member Omar al-Saeed to a four-year prison term and three hundred lashes. The court forwarded Al-Saeed’s case to the SCC for further prosecution and, as of year’s end, was awaiting retrial. One other ACPRA activist remained in detention in al-Ha’ir prison awaiting trial. In June 2013 the BIP pressed charges against ACPRA member Saleh al-Ashwan, and a judge referred his case to the Riyadh Criminal Court.
Three other ACPRA members remained under investigation during the year or had charges brought against them, and authorities forced at least three others to sign statements repudiating the organization to avoid investigation and detention.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRC is part of the government and requires the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before meeting with diplomats, academics, or researchers with international human rights organizations. The HRC president has ministerial status and reports to the king. According to the NSHR’s 2009 report, the HRC “met with weak collaboration on the part of some governmental bodies in spite of the issuance of royal directives.”
The well-resourced HRC was effective in highlighting problems and registering and responding to complaints received, but its capacity to effect change was more limited. The HRC worked directly with the Royal Diwan and the Council of Ministers; with a committee composed of representatives of the Consultative Council and the ministries of labor, social affairs, and interior; and with Consultative Council committees for the judiciary, Islamic affairs, and human rights.
During the year the HRC and NSHR were more outspoken in areas deemed less politically sensitive, including child abuse, child marriage, prison conditions, and cases of individuals detained beyond their prescribed prison sentences. They avoided topics such as protests or cases of political activists or reformists that would require directly confronting government authorities.
The HRC board’s 19 full-time members included at least three Shia; they received and responded to complaints submitted to them by their constituencies, including issues related to religious freedom and women’s rights. The Consultative Council’s Human Rights Committee also actively followed cases and included women and Shia among its members; a woman served as deputy chairperson of the committee.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits discrimination based on race but not gender, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, or social status. The law and tradition discriminate based on gender. The law and the guardianship system restrict women to the status of legal dependents vis-a-vis their male guardians. This status is unchanged even after women reach adulthood. Women and some men faced widespread and state-enforced segregation based on societal, cultural, and religious traditions.
The government generally reinforced sharia-based traditional prohibitions on discrimination based on disability, language, social status, or race. Nevertheless, discrimination based on race, lineage, or social status were common.
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties from flogging to execution. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal “mixing of genders,” even when there was no conviction for rape.
Consequently, due to the legal and social penalties, authorities brought few cases to trial. The law does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. Statistics on incidents of rape were not available, but press reports and observers indicated rape was a serious problem. The government did not maintain public records on prosecutions, convictions, or punishments.
Most rape cases were unreported because victims faced societal reprisal, diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanction up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery. The National Family Safety Program, a private charity organization founded in 2005 to spread awareness and combat domestic violence and child abuse, continued to report abuse cases.
In August 2013 the Council of Ministers announced the adoption of a law against domestic abuse, which defines domestic abuse and provides a framework for the government to prevent and protect victims of abuse. The law criminalizes domestic abuse with penalties of one month to one year of imprisonment or a fine of between 5,000 and 50,000 riyals ($1,330 to $13,330) unless a court provides a harsher sentence.
Researchers stated domestic violence might be seriously underreported, making it difficult to gauge the magnitude of the problem, which they believed to be widespread. Independent estimates supported by officials working at the Ministry of Social Affairs indicated the incidence of female spousal abuse ranged widely, from 16 to 50 percent of all wives.
Officials stated the government did not clearly define domestic violence and procedures concerning cases, and thus enforcement, varied from one government body to another. The NSHR’s 2013 annual report noted the organization investigated 360 cases of domestic violence and violations of women’s rights, compared with 338 such cases in 2012. Violence included a broad spectrum of abuse.
There were reports of police or judges returning women directly to their abusers, most of whom were the women’s legal guardians. The government made efforts to combat domestic violence and, during the year, the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue held workshops and distributed educational materials on peaceful conflict resolution between spouses and in families.
The government supported family-protection shelters. The HRC received complaints of domestic abuse and referred these complaints to other government offices. The HRC advised complainants and offered legal assistance to some female litigants. The organization provided facilities for children of women complainants and litigants, and it distributed publications supporting women’s rights in education, health care, development, and the workplace.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was not a common practice in the country, particularly among the Saudi population, as the official government interpretation of sharia prohibits the practice.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were no known deaths involving dowry, honor killings, or other harmful practices targeted at women during the year.
Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment was difficult to measure, with little media reporting and no government data. The government’s interpretation of sharia guides courts on cases of sexual harassment. Employers in many sectors maintained separate male and female workspaces where feasible, in accordance with law.
In January, a court in Mecca sentenced a Saudi man to 20 lashes for mentally abusing his wife by accusing her of not being a virgin prior to their marriage without providing any proof to substantiate the accusation. The government’s interpretation of sharia criminalizes false accusations of adultery.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of government interference in a couple’s right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
Prenatal care, essential obstetric care, and postpartum care were available, but patients were not always aware of its availability, and medical staff did not always emphasize its importance. Intrauterine devices were the most popular form of birth control, and women, regardless of marital status, were legally able to obtain them. Birth control pills also were available to women in local pharmacies without prescriptions.
Although no legal barriers prevented access to contraception, constraints on mobility and economic resources as well as social pressure for large families limited many women. Information was not available regarding equal diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
Discrimination: Women continued to face significant discrimination under law and custom, and many remained uninformed about their unequal rights. Although they may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian, women have fewer political or social rights than men, and society treats them as unequal members in the political and social spheres.
The country’s interpretation of sharia prohibits women from marrying non-Muslims, but men may marry Christians and Jews. Women require government permission to marry noncitizens; men must be more than 25 years old to marry a foreigner and must obtain government permission if they intend to marry noncitizens from countries other than Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates).
Regulations prohibited men from marrying women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chad, and Burma. Additionally, the government required Saudi men wishing to marry a second wife, who is a foreigner, to submit documentation attesting to the fact that his first wife is either disabled, suffering from a chronic disease, or is sterile. Women do not directly transmit citizenship to their children.
The guardianship system requires that every woman have a close male relative as her “guardian” with the legal authority to approve her travel outside of the country. A guardian also has authority to approve some types of business licenses and study at a university or college. Women can make their own determinations concerning hospital care.
Women can work without their guardian’s permission; however, most employers required women to have such permission. A husband who “verbally” (rather than via a court process) divorces his wife or refuses to sign final divorce papers continues to be her legal guardian. The law does not require equal pay for equal work (see section 7.d.).
Widespread societal exclusion enforced by, but not limited to, state institutions restricted women from using many public facilities. The law requires women usually to sit in separate, specially designated family sections. They frequently cannot consume food in restaurants that do not have such sections. Women risk arrest for riding in a private vehicle driven by a male who is not an employee (such as a hired chauffeur or taxi driver) or a close male relative.
Cultural norms enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full- length black cloak) in public. The CPVPV also generally expected Muslim women to cover their hair and non-Muslim women from Asian and African countries to comply more fully with local customs of dress than non-Muslim Western women. In some rural areas and smaller cities, women adhered to the traditional dress code covering the entire body, including hands, feet, hair, and face.
Women also faced discrimination in courts, where the testimony of one man equals that of two women. All judges are male, and women faced restriction on their practice of law. In divorce proceedings women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men can divorce without giving cause. In doing so, men must pay immediately an amount of money agreed at the time of the marriage that serves as a one-time alimony payment; however, men can be forced to make subsequent alimony payments by court order.
The government began implementing an identification system based on fingerprints designed to provide women more reliable access to courts. The previous system required women to present themselves at court in the presence of a male relative to prove their identity if they declined to unveil their faces.
Women faced discrimination under family law. For example, a woman needs a guardian’s permission to marry or must seek a court order in the case of adhl (male guardians refusing to approve the marriage of women under their charge). In such adhl cases, the judge assumes the role of the guardian and can approve the marriage. An August report by the Ministry of Justice said courts received 622 cases of adhl between 2012 and this year.
Courts award custody of children when they attain a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In numerous cases former husbands prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children. Inheritance laws also discriminate against women, since daughters receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.
According to recent surveys, women constituted more than half of university students; however, segregated education through university level was the norm.
The only exceptions to segregation in higher education were medical schools at the undergraduate level and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a graduate-level research university, where women worked jointly with men, were not required to wear the veil, and drove cars on campus.
Other universities, such as al-Faisal University in Riyadh, offered partially segregated classes with students receiving instruction from the same teacher and able to participate together in class discussion, but with the women and men physically separated by dividers.
The Ministry of Labor explicitly approves and encourages the employment of women in specific sectors, particularly in government.
In 2012 the Ministry of Labor announced implementation of regulations requiring all stores selling women’s undergarments and cosmetics to be staffed solely by women. As of year’s end, however, the government had not universally applied the regulations, either in urban neighborhoods habituated by foreign noncitizen workers or outside major cities.
The regulations also ban women from 20 professions, mostly in heavy industry, but create guidelines for women to telework. Nevertheless, some factories and manufacturing facilities, particularly in the Eastern Province, employed men and women who worked separate shifts during different hours of the day.
Women worked in the judicial offices of the Board of Grievances across the country answering inquiries, registering cases, delivering copies of verdicts, and checking the identity of female clients. A 2013 report by the Central Department of Statistics and Information estimated Saudi women constituted 9.2 percent of the workforce in the kingdom versus 37.4 percent for Saudi males. The same report estimated that women constituted 14.7 percent of those employed in the kingdom.
The vast majority of the 1.4 million women working in the kingdom were foreign laborers with significant additional restrictions on their rights. There were cases during the year of women workers fleeing their sponsors because of reported abuse.
Widespread gender segregation and societal pressures directly led to discrimination in employment. Despite gender segregation, the law grants women the right to obtain business licenses with the approval of their guardians, and women frequently obtained licenses in fields that might require them to supervise foreign workers, interact with male clients, or deal with government officials.
In medical settings and in the energy industry, women and men worked together and, in some instances, women supervised male employees. Women who work in establishments with 50 or more female employees have the right to maternity leave and childcare.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from the father, and only the father can register a birth. There were cases of authorities denying children of citizen parents public services, including education and health care, because the government failed independently to register the birth entirely or immediately, sometimes due to the failure of the father to report the birth (see section 2.d. Stateless Persons).
Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred. In 2013 the NSHR registered 112 instances of violence against children, according to its annual report, compared with 79 instances in 2012. In September a study released by the Ministry of Social Affairs estimated 45 percent of children in the kingdom were victims of domestic abuse.
Early and Forced Marriage: There were reports during the year of child marriage; it was almost entirely limited to rural areas. Senior government officials, including officials from the governmental HRC and the quasigovernmental NSHR, spoke out against the practice and advocated the adoption of a minimum marriage age.
sharia does not specify a minimum age for marriage but suggests girls may marry after reaching puberty.
According to some senior religious leaders, girls as young as age 10 may be married. Families sometimes arranged such marriages, principally in rural areas or to settle family debts, without the consent of the child. The HRC and NSHR monitored cases of child marriages, which they reported were rare or, at least, rarely reported, and took steps to prevent them from being consummated.
Media reports quoted judges as saying the majority of child marriage cases in the country involved Syrian girls, followed by smaller numbers of Egyptians and Yemenis. The application for a marriage license must record the bride’s age, and registration of the marriage is a legal prerequisite for consummation. The government reportedly instructed marriage registrars not to register marriages involving children. In June the NSHR branch in Taif reported it prevented two marriages during the year between men and girls under the age of 18.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was not a common practice for children in the country, particularly among the Saudi population, as the official government interpretation of sharia law prohibits the practice.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Anti-Cyber Crimes Law stipulates punishment for crimes including the preparation, publication, and promotion of material for pornographic sites may be no less than two and one-half years’ imprisonment or 1.5 million riyals ($400,000) if the crime includes the exploitation of minors. The law does not define a minimum age for consensual sex.
International Child Abduction: The kingdom is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For country- specific information see the Department of State’s report
There were no known Jewish citizens and no statistics available concerning the religious denominations of foreigners.
According to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, no imams publicly espoused intolerant views warranting dismissal during the year. Cases of government- employed imams using anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, or anti-Shia language in their sermons were rare and occurred without authorization by government authorities. The law requires government-employed imams to give all sermons delivered in mosques in the country. They must deliver sermons vetted and cleared by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Unauthorized imams continued to employ intolerant views in their sermons.
During the year the ministry issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons.
The government’s multiyear “Tatweer” project to revise textbooks, curricula, and teaching methods to promote tolerance and remove content disparaging religions other than Islam began in 2007. As of the end of 2013, the program had benefitted from more than 11 billion riyals ($2.9 billion) in spending to revise the curriculum.
Also, as of the end of 2013, the government had developed new curricula and textbooks for at least grades four through 10; however, despite these efforts some intolerant material remained in textbooks used in schools.
Editorial cartoons exhibited anti-Semitism characterized by stereotypical images of Jews along with Jewish symbols, particularly at times of heightened political tension with Israel. Anti-Semitic comments by journalists, academics, and clerics appeared in the media.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services or other areas. The law does not require public accessibility to buildings, information, and communications.
Newer commercial buildings often included such access, as did some newer government buildings. Children with disabilities could attend government-supported schools. Persons with disabilities had equal access to information and communications.
Information about patterns of abuse of persons with disabilities in prisons and educational and mental health institutions was not widely available. Persons with disabilities could participate in civic affairs, and there are no restrictions on men with disabilities from voting in Municipal Council elections.
In 2013, the HRC appointed four subject-matter experts to work as advocates for persons with disabilities in the kingdom and to respond to complaints of discrimination; their work expanded during the year to include participation in international conferences on discrimination against persons with disabilities.
The Prince Salman Center for Disability Research, a nonprofit research foundation, continued to conduct laboratory and field research on a range of disability and quality of life issues. The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Vocational rehabilitation projects and social care programs increasingly brought persons with disabilities into the mainstream.
Although racial discrimination is illegal, societal discrimination against members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities was a problem. There was also discrimination based on tribal or nontribal lineage. Descendants of former slaves in the country, who have African lineage, faced discrimination in both employment and society.
There was formal and informal discrimination, especially racial discrimination against foreign workers from Africa and Asia. The tolerance campaign of the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue sought to address some of these problems, and it provided training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups.
There were numerous cases of assault on foreign workers and reports of widespread worker abuse. The Shia minority continued to suffer social, legal, economic, and political discrimination. To address the problem, in recent years the ministries of defense and interior and the National Guard held antidiscrimination training courses run by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue for police and other law enforcement officers.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Under sharia as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa.
Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there gay rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, statelessness, access to education, or health care.
Stigma or intimidation was likely to limit reports of incidents of abuse. Sexual orientation and gender identity could constitute the basis for harassment, blackmail, or other actions.
There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. In March Abdullatif Al al-Sheikh, president of the CPVPV, stated the CPVPV regularly used undercover agents to identify and arrest the owners of social media accounts that distributed pornographic content or served as social networking tools for LGBT persons in the kingdom.
In April local authorities and the CPVPV raided a concert in a rest house in Jeddah and arrested 35 gay men, some of whom were dressed in women’s clothing. In July the Medina Criminal Court sentenced a 24-year old man to three years in prison and 450 lashes for soliciting sex with other men using Twitter.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There was no reported societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. By law the government deported foreign workers who tested positive for HIV/AIDS upon arrival or who tested positive when hospitalized for other reasons. There was no indication that HIV-positive foreigners failed to receive antiretroviral treatment or that authorities isolated them during the year. The Ministry of Health’s HIV/AIDS program worked to fight stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Societal violence and discrimination against the country’s Shia minority continued. On November 3, gunmen killed seven Shia at a Husseiniya, a Shia religious community center, in the Eastern Province village of al-Dawlah. The attack occurred during Ashura, which commemorates the seventh-century death of Imam Hussein.
On November 4, two suspects and two police officers were killed during a security operation in Buraida. Government security forces responded quickly and arrested 77 suspects associated with the incident. As of year’s end government officials and the public widely condemned the attack.