Human rights in Saudi Arabia

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Saudi Arabia
Basic Law
Foreign relations

Human rights in Saudi Arabia are intended to be based on the Hanbali Islamic religious laws under absolute rule of the Saudi royal family.[1]

The very strict regime ruling the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is consistently ranking among the "worst of the worst" in Freedom House's annual survey of political and civil rights.[2]

Qorvis MSLGroup, a US subsidiary of Publicis Groupe, amid the execution of political protesters and opponents, has been working with Saudi Arabia for more than a decade to whitewash its record on human rights.[3][4]


Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees is common, widespread and generally committed with impunity. Reported methods included beating, suspension by the limbs and sleep deprivation. Those tortured reportedly included detained protesters, who were held incommunicado for days or weeks without charge or trial.

Corporal punishment

Saudi Arabia is one of approximately thirty countries in the world with judicial corporal punishment. In Saudi Arabia's case this includes amputations of hands and feet for robbery, and flogging for lesser crimes such as "sexual deviance" and drunkenness. In the 2000s, it was reported that women were sentenced to lashes for adultery; the women were actually victims of rape, but because they could not prove who the perpetrators were, they were deemed guilty of committing adultery.[5] The number of lashes is not clearly prescribed by law and is varied according to the discretion of judges, and ranges from dozens of lashes to several hundreds, usually applied over a period of weeks or months. In 2004, the United Nations Committee Against Torture criticized Saudi Arabia over the amputations and floggings it carries out under Sharia. The Saudi delegation responded defending "legal traditions" held since the inception of Islam 1,400 years ago and rejected interference in its legal system.

The courts continue to impose sentences of flogging as a principal or additional punishment for many offences. At least five defendants were sentenced to flogging of 1,000 to 2,500 lashes. Flogging was carried out in prisons.[6]

In 2009, Mazen Abdul-Jawad was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 5 years in prison for bragging on a Saudi TV show about his sexual exploits.[7][8]

In 2014, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi's sentence was increased to 1000 lashes and 10 years imprisonment after he was accused of apostasy in 2012. The lashes were due to take place over 20 weeks. The first round (50) were administered on January 9, 2015, but the second round has been postponed due to medical problems. The case has been internationally condemned and has put a considerable amount of pressure on the Saudi legal system.

UK pensioner and cancer victim, Karl Andree aged 74 faces 360 lashes for home brewing alcohol. His family fears the punishment could kill him.[9]

In 2016, a Saudi man was sentenced to 2000 lashes, 10 years in prison and the fine of 20,000 riyals($5,300) for making tweets critical of Islam, and denying the existence of God.[10][11]

Capital punishment; right to representation

Saudi Arabia engages in capital punishment, including public executions by beheading.[12] The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences[13] including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy,[14] adultery,[15] witchcraft and sorcery[16] and can be carried out by beheading with a sword,[14] stoning or firing squad,[15] followed by crucifixion.[16] In 2005 there were 191 executions, in 2006 there were 38, in 2007 there were 153, and in 2008 there were 102.[17]

A spokesman for the National Society for Human Rights, an organisation which is funded by the Saudi Government, said that numbers of executions are rising because crime rates are rising, that prisoners are treated humanely, and that the beheadings deter crime, saying, "Allah, our creator, knows best what's good for His people...Should we just think of and preserve the rights of the murderer and not think of the rights of others?"[18]

Saudi Arabian police and immigration authorities routinely abuse people who are stopped or detained, especially workers from developing countries.[19] Earlier in November 2013, the authorities received criticism for the way they have planned and handled the crackdown on illegal workers. Saudi authorities - in some cases with the help of citizens - rounded up many of illegal workers and physically abused them.[20][21]

Human trafficking

Saudi Arabia is a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of slave labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Men and women from Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and many other countries voluntarily travel to Saudi Arabia as domestic servants or other low-skilled labourers, but some subsequently face conditions indicative of involuntary servitude.[22]

Women, primarily from Asian and African countries are trafficked into Saudi Arabia for commercial sexual exploitation; others were kidnapped and forced into prostitution after running away from abusive employers.[22]

Sexual slavery

Some Saudi men have also used legally contracted “temporary marriages” in countries such as Mauritania, Yemen, and Indonesia as a means by which to sexually exploit migrant workers. Females as young as seven years old are led to believe they are being wed in earnest, but upon arrival in Saudi Arabia subsequently become their husbands’ sexual slaves, are forced into domestic labor and, in some cases, prostitution.[23]

Women's rights

Saudi women face discrimination in many aspects of their lives, such as the justice system. Although they make up 70% of those enrolled in universities, for social reasons, women make up 5% of the workforce in Saudi Arabia,[24] the lowest proportion in the world. The treatment of women has been referred to as "sex segregation"[25][26] and "gender apartheid".[27][28] Implementation of a government resolution supporting expanded employment opportunities for women met resistance from within the labor ministry,[29] from the religious police,[30] and from the male citizenry.[31]

In many parts of Saudi Arabia, it is believed that a woman's place is in the home caring for her husband and family, yet there are some women who do not adhere to this view and practice, and some run the house instead of the husband himself. Moreover, there is also some type of segregation at homes, such as different entrances for men and women.[32]

Women's rights are at the heart of calls for reform in Saudi Arabia - calls that are challenging the kingdom's political status quo.[32] Local and international women's groups are also pushing governments to respond, taking advantage of the fact that some rulers are eager to project a more progressive image to the West.

The presence of powerful businesswomen—still a rare sight—in some of these groups helps get them heard.[33] Prior to 2008, women were not allowed to enter hotels and furnished apartments without a chaperon or mahram. With a 2008 Royal Decree, however, the only requirement for a woman to be allowed to enter hotels is a national ID card, and the hotel must inform the nearest police station of their room reservation and length of stay; however, this happens with everybody staying in the hotel.[34] In April 2010, a new, optional ID card for women was issued which allows them to travel in countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The cards include GPS tracking, fingerprints and features that make them difficult to forge. Women do not need male permission to apply for the card, but do need it to travel abroad.[35] Proponents argue that new female identity cards enable a woman to carry out her activities with ease, and prevent forgeries committed in the name of women.

Women first joined the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia in 2013, occupying thirty seats.[36] Furthermore, that year three women were named as deputy chairpersons of three committees. Dr. Thurayya Obeid was named Deputy Chairwoman of the Human Rights and Petitions Committee, Dr. Zainab Abu Talib, Deputy Chairwoman of the Information and Cultural Committee, and Dr. Lubna Al-Ansari, Deputy Chairwoman of the Health Affairs and Environment Committee.[36]

In 2013 the Directorate General of Passports allowed Saudi women married to foreigners to sponsor their children, so that the children can have residency permits (iqamas) with their mothers named as the sponsors, and have the right to work in the private sector in Saudi Arabia while on the sponsorship of their mothers, and the mother can also bring her children who are living abroad back to Saudi Arabia if they have no criminal records. Foreign men married to Saudi women were also granted the right to work in the private sector in Saudi Arabia while on the sponsorship of their wives on condition that the title on their iqamas should be written as "husband of a Saudi wife" and that they should have valid passports enabling them to return to their homes at any time.[37] Saudi women married to foreigners, however, still face difficulty in passing their nationality to their children.

Also in 2013, Saudi Arabia registered its first female trainee lawyer, Arwa al-Hujaili.[38]

According to the CIA world factbook, 82.2% of females are literate, in comparison to 90.8% literacy rates in males.[39]


Saudi Arabia is currently the only country in the world where women are forbidden to drive motor vehicles.[40] The motoring ban is not in statute law, but is an "informal" religious fatwa imposed by conservative Muslim clerics[41] in order to maintain the country's tradition of gender segregation, although this religious view might have been changed.[42] In 1990, when 47 Saudi women drove cars through the streets of Riyadh in protest against the ban, protestors were punished. "All the drivers, and their husbands, were barred from foreign travel for a year. Those women who had government jobs were fired, once their employers found out. And from hundreds of mosque pulpits, they were denounced by name as immoral women out to destroy Saudi society."[43]

Women complain that "we can't move around without a male."[41] Many cannot afford chauffeurs, and the few buses that do operate in cities and towns across the Kingdom do so randomly.[40] In 2013, women started a campaign to defy the ban by driving on October 26, 2013. However, on October 23, in a "rare and explicit restating of the ban", Interior Ministry Spokesman General Mansur al-Turki warned, "It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate support."[44] In December 2014, two women were arrested and sentenced to almost a month of prison for defying the female driving ban.[45]

Women are allowed to fly aircraft, though they must be chauffeured to the airport.[46] A Saudi woman made news, when she got her pilot's licence. The woman, Hanadi al-Hindi works for Saudi Prince, Al Waleed.[47]

Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi living in the US, has created a video which makes a reference to the Government's rules which prevent women from driving. The video was released the same day many women in Saudi Arabia staged a nationwide protest against the Government.[48]

In 2015, a Saudi woman working in neighbouring UAE was arrested as she tried to enter Saudi Arabia. She had her passport taken from her and was forced to wait at the Saudi-UAE border without any food or water. She claims that her UAE drivers licence is valid in all GCC countries, but the Saudi border authorities refused to acknowledge its legitimacy.[49][50]



Sectarianism and freedom of religion

The Saudi government has often been viewed as an active oppressor of Shia Muslims because of the funding of the Wahabbi ideology which denounces the Shia faith.[51]

In 1988 fatwas passed by the country’s leading cleric, Abdul-Aziz ibn Baz denounced the Shias as apostates. Another by Abdul-Rahman al-Jibrin, a member of the Higher Council of Ulama is on record as saying

"Some people say that the rejectionists (Rafidha, i.e. Shia) are Muslims because they believe in God and his prophet, pray and fast. But I say they are heretics. They are the most vicious enemy of Muslims, who should be wary of their plots. They should be boycotted and expelled so that Muslims be spared their evil."[52]

According to Vali Nasr, al-Jibrin's sanctioning of the killing of Shia was reiterated in Wahhabi religious literature as late as 2002.

According to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report, Shia citizens in Saudi Arabia "face systematic discrimination in religion, education, justice, and employment".[53]

Saudi Arabia has no Shia cabinet ministers, mayors or police chiefs, according to another source, Vali Nasr, unlike other countries with sizable Shia populations (such as Iraq and Lebanon) . Shia are kept out of "critical jobs" in the armed forces and the security services, and not one of the three hundred Shia girls’ schools in the Eastern Province has a Shia principal.

Pakistani columnist Mohammad Taqi has written that "the Saudi regime is also acutely aware that, in the final analysis, the Shiite grievances ... stem from socioeconomic deprivation, as a result of religious repression and political marginalization bordering on apartheid."[54]

Testifying before the US Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Ali al-Ahmed, Director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, stated

"Saudi Arabia is a glaring example of religious apartheid. The religious institutions from government clerics to judges, to religious curriculums, and all religious instructions in media are restricted to the Wahhabi understanding of Islam, adhered to by less than 40% of the population. The Saudi government communized Islam, through its monopoly of both religious thoughts and practice. Wahhabi Islam is imposed and enforced on all Saudis regardless of their religious orientations. The Wahhabi sect does not tolerate other religious or ideological beliefs, Muslim or not. Religious symbols by Muslims, Christians, Jewish and other believers are all banned. The Saudi embassy in Washington is a living example of religious apartheid. In its 50 years, there has not been a single non-Sunni Muslim diplomat in the embassy. The branch of Imam Mohamed Bin Saud University in Fairfax, Virginia instructs its students that Shia Islam is a Jewish conspiracy."[55]

In November 2014 at al-Dalwah village in the eastern province of al-Ahsa, three unknown masked gunmen opened fire at a Husseiniya, or Shi'ite religious center, killing eight and injuring dozens.[56]

While the government and the official media and religious establishment strongly condemned the attack, a handful of articles in the Saudi press argued that the attack "had not come out of nowhere", that there was anti-Shi'ite incitement in the kingdom on the part of "the religious establishment, preachers, and even university lecturers – and that it was on the rise".[57]

The Saudi government has refused to allow Shia teachers and students exemption from school to partake in activities for the Day of Ashura, one of the most important religious days for Shia Muslims which commemorates the martyrdom of Muhammad's grandson, Husayn bin Ali).[58] In 2009, during Ashura commencements, Shia religious and community leaders were arrested.

Shiites are banned from building mosques and other religious centers, and are forced to perform Friday prayers in homes (Al-Hassan). In the Eastern city of Al-Khobar, whose population is predominately Shia, there are no Shia mosques.[59] Saudi Arabia's religious police mandate prayers and all those in public buildings during prayer time are required to stop what they are doing to pray. Because there are minor differences between the way that Shiites and Sunnis pray and between prayer times, Shiites are forced to either pray the Sunni way or take a break from work.

In 2009 a group of Shiites on their way to perform hajj pilgrimage (one of the five pillars of Islam that all able-bodied Muslims are required to perform once in their lives) in Mecca were arrested by Saudi religious police.[59] Between February 20 and 24, 2009, Shia pilgrims from the heavily Shia Eastern Province who had come to Medina for the anniversary of the prophet Muhammad's death clashed with Sunni religious police at the Baqi' cemetery over doctrinal differences concerning the rituals surrounding commemoration of the dead. Security forces shot a 15-year-old pilgrim in the chest, and an unknown civilian stabbed a Shia religious sheikh in the back with a knife, shouting "Kill the rejectionist [Shia]." The authorities denied that anyone had been wounded, and played down the ensuing arrests of Shia pilgrims.[59]

Religious police have arrested Shia Women in the Eastern Province for matters as trivial as organizing classes for Quranic studies and selling clothing for religious ceremonies as if they were involved in political activities which are not allowed in KSA.[59]

In the eastern city of Dammam where three quarters of the 400,000 residents are Shia, there are no Shia mosques or prayer halls, no Shia call to prayer broadcast on TV, and no cemeteries for Shia.

Late 2011, a Shiite pilgrim was charged for being "involved with blasphemy" and sentenced to 500 lashes and 2 years in jail.[60] Also late 2011, a prominent Shiite Canadian cleric, Usama al-Attar.[61] He was released on the same day, declaring the arrest entirely unprovoked.[62]

Much of education in Saudi Arabia is based on Sunni Wahhabi religious material. From a very young age, students are taught that Shiites are not Muslims and that Shiism is a conspiracy hatched by the Jews, and so Shiites are worthy of death.[63] Government Wahhabi scholars, such as Abdulqader Shaibat al-Hamd, have proclaimed on state radio that Sunni Muslims must not “eat their [Shia] food, marry from them, or bury their dead in Muslims' graveyards”.[63]

The government has restricted the names that Shias can use for their children in an attempt to discourage them from showing their identity. Saudi textbooks are hostile to Shiism, often characterizing the faith as a form of heresy worse than Christianity and Judaism.

Because anti-Shia attitudes are engrained from an early age, they are passed down from generation to generation. This prejudice is found not only in textbooks (often characterizing the faith as a form of heresy worse than Christianity and Judaism[51][64]), but also within the teachers in the classroom, and even in the university setting.[63] (Wahhabi) teachers frequently tell classrooms full of young Shia schoolchildren that they are heretics.[51][64] Teachers who proclaim that Shiites are atheists and deserve death have faced no repercussions for their actions, barely even receiving punishment.[63] At a seminar about the internet, held in King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology, professor Dr. Bader Hmood Albader explained how the internet was beneficial to society, but at the same time there were many Shia websites proclaiming to be Muslim websites, which needed to be stopped.[63]

Much discrimination occurs in the Saudi workforce as well. Shiites are prohibited from becoming teachers of religious subjects, which constitute about half of the courses in secondary education.[63] Shiites cannot become principals of schools.[63] Some Shiites have become university professors but often face harassment from students and faculty alike.[63] Shiites are disqualified as witnesses in court, as Saudi Sunni sources cite the Shi'a practise of 'Taqiyya'- wherein it is permissible to lie while they are in fear or at risk of significant persecution. Shia cannot serve as judges in ordinary court, and are banned from gaining admission to military academies,[59] and from high-ranking government or security posts, including becoming pilots in Saudi Airlines.[65]

Amir Taheri quotes a Shi'ite businessman from Dhahran as saying "It is not normal that there are no Shi'ite army officers, ministers, governors, mayors and ambassadors in this kingdom. This form of religious apartheid is as intolerable as was apartheid based on race." [66]

Human Rights Watch reports that Shiites want to be treated as equals and desire to be free from discrimination (Human Rights Watch). However, the Shia minority is still marginalized on a large scale.[59]

Freedom of religion and belief

A road sign for a bypass used to restrict non-Muslims from Mecca

Saudi Arabian law does not recognize religious freedom, and the public practice of non-Muslim religions is actively prohibited.[67] No law specifically requires citizens to be Muslims, but article 12.4 of the Naturalization Law requires that applicants attest to their religious affiliation, and article 14.1 requires that applicants to get a certificate endorsed by their local cleric.[68] The Government has declared the Quran and the Sunna (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad to be the country’s constitution. Neither the Government nor society in general accepts the concepts of separation of religion and state, and such separation does not exist. The legal system is based on Shari'a (Islamic law), with Shari'a courts basing their judgments largely on a code derived from the Quran and the Sunna. According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia "systematically discriminates against its Muslim religious minorities, in particular Shia and Ismailis",[69] but the Government permits Shi'a Muslims to use their own legal tradition to adjudicate noncriminal cases within their community.[68]

According to the Anti-Terrorism law introduced in 2014, atheists are persecuted as terrorists in Saudi Arabia, it also give the Interior Ministry the permission to spy on citizens without a judicial oversight.[70][71][72][73]


Under Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican officials have raised the issue of Christians being forbidden from worshipping openly in Saudi Arabia.[74] As an Islamic state, Saudi Arabia gives preferential treatment for Muslims. During Ramadan, eating, drinking, or smoking in public during daylight hours is not allowed.[75] Foreign schools are often required to teach a yearly introductory segment on Islam. Saudi religious police have detained Shi'ite pilgrims participating in the Hajj, allegedly calling them "infidels in Mecca".[76] The restrictions on the Shi'a branch of Islam in the Kingdom along with the banning of displaying Jewish, Hindu and Christian symbols have been referred to as apartheid.[77]

The Saudi government has gone further than stopping Christians from worshipping in publicly designated buildings to even raid private prayer meetings among Christian believers in their own homes. On December 15, 2011, Saudi security forces arrested 35 Ethiopian Christians in Jeddah who were praying in a home, beating them and threatening them with death. When the Ethiopian workers' employers asked security forces for what reason they were arrested, they said "for practising Christianity". Later, under mounting international pressure, this charge was changed to "mixing with the opposite sex". The freedom of religion, including the freedom of assembling together to worship and pray, is a basic right recognised under international human rights law. [78] [79]

In December 2012, Saudi religious police detained more than 41 individuals after storming a house in the Saudi Arabian province of al-Jouf. They were accused of “plotting to celebrate Christmas,” according to a December 26 statement released by the police branch.[80] It is worth noting that proselytizing by non-Muslims, including the distribution of non-Muslim religious materials such as Bibles, is illegal.

Shia Muslims

"Magic, witchcraft and sorcery"

According to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch in 2009, "Saudi judges have harshly punished confessed `witches` for what at worst appears to be fraud, but may well be harmless acts."[81] In 2009 the Saudi "religious police" established a special "Anti-Witchcraft Unit" to educate the public, investigate and combat witchcraft.[82]

Among the people executed in Saudi for magic and sorcery (and often other charges) are Egyptian pharmacist Mustafa Ibrahim (beheaded in 2007 in Riyadh), Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri, (found in possession of talismans, and executed in Najran province in June 2012), Amina bin Salem Nasser,[83] (executed in December 2011 in Jawf), and Abdul Hamid Bin Hussain Bin Moustafa al-Fakki (a Sudanese migrant worker executed in a car park in Medina on September 20, 2011).[84][85][86] Ali Hussain Sibat, a Lebanese host of a popular fortune-telling TV program was arrested while in Saudi in May 2008 on Umrah and sentenced to death but finally released sometime in 2011 or 2012.[87]

Many convicted of magic receive lesser punishments of lashes and/or prison. In 2011, the "Anti-Witchcraft Unit" processed over 586 cases of magical crime.[88] In 2012 there were 215 witchcraft arrests made.[89] The majority of these offenders are foreign domestic workers from Africa and Indonesia.[88] Foreign domestic workers who bring unfamiliar traditional religious or folk customs are a disproportionately affected by the anti-witchcraft campaign according to Human Rights Watch researchers Adam Coogle and Cristoph Wilcke. Saudis assume folk practices are "some kind of sorcery or witchcraft"[82][88] and widespread belief in witchcraft means it can be invoked as a defense in Sharia courts against workers complaining of mistreatment by Saudi employers.[90] Humans Rights Watch believes that the conviction of a Syrian national, `Abd al-Karim Mara'I al-Naqshabandi -- executed in 1996 for undertaking `the practice of works of magic and spells and possession of a collection of polytheistic and superstitious books`—was actually resulted from a dispute with his employer Prince Salman bin Sa'ud bin `Abd al`Aziz, a nephew of King Fahd. [91][92]

Freedom of press and communication

Speech, the press and other forms of communicative media, including television and radio broadcasting and Internet reception, are actively censored by the government to prevent political dissent and anything deemed, by the government, to be offensive to the Wahhabi culture or Islamic morality.[93]

In 2008, a prominent Saudi blogger and reformist Fouad al-Farhan was jailed for posting comments online that were critical of Saudi business, religious and media figures, signifying a move by the government to step up its censorship polices of the Internet within its borders.[94] He was released on April 26, 2008.[95]

Online social media has increasingly come under government scrutiny for dealing with the "forbidden" topics. In 2010 a Saudi man was fined and given jail time for his sexually suggestive YouTube video production. That same year another man was also jailed and ordered to pay a fine for boasting about his sex life on television.[96]

D+Z, a magazine focused on development, reports that hundreds were arrested in order to limit freedom of expression. Many of these individuals were held without trial and in secret. The torture of these prisoners was also found to be prevalent.[97]

On December 17, 2012, blogger Raif Badawi was charged with apostasy, which carries the death penalty. Badawi is the editor and of co-founder of Free Saudi Liberals, a website for religious discussion.[98][99] The organization Human Rights Watch has called for charges against him to be dropped.[100] He has been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for "insulting Islam", but this sentence was changed to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and additionally a fine of 1,000,000 Saudi riyals. The lashes were administered every Friday for 20 weeks, 50 lashes at a time.

Saudi novelist and political analyst Turki al-Hamad was arrested December 24, 2012 after a series of tweets on religion and other topics. The arrest was ordered by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, however the charges against al-Hamad were not announced.[101] He has since been freed.[102]

In July 2015, Waleed Abu-l Khair, a prominent human rights lawyer, founder of Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia and recipient of 2012 Olof Palm prize for human rights, was sentenced to 15 years of prison by a special criminal court in Riyadh for "offences".[45]

On November 17, 2015, Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet and contemporary artist, has been sentenced to death under the charges of apostasy. Fayadh was detained by the country's religious police in 2013 in Abha, in southwest Saudi Arabia, and then rearrested and tried in early 2014. He was accused of having promoted atheism in his 2008 book of poems Instructions Within. However, the religious police failed to prove that his poetry was atheist propaganda and Fayadh’s supporters believe he is being punished by hardliners for posting a video online showing a man being lashed in public by the religious police in Abha. Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Fayadh’s death sentence showed Saudi Arabia’s "complete intolerance of anyone who may not share government-mandated religious, political and social views".[103][104]

On July 15, 2015, Saudi Arabian writer and commentator Dr. Zuhair Kutbi has been sentenced to four years in prison without clear charges following an interview at the Rotana Khaleejia TV channel in which he discussed his ideas for peaceful reform in Saudi Arabia to become a constitutional monarchy, and talked about combatting religious and political repression. Zuhair Kutbi's lawyer and son said half the sentence was suspended, but that he was also banned from writing for 15 years and travelling abroad for five, and fined $26,600.[105][106]

Political freedom

The 1990s marked a slow period of political liberalization in the kingdom as the government created a written constitution, and the advisory Consultative Council, the latter being an appointed delegation of Saudi scholars and professionals that are allowed to advise the king. Some political dissidents were released from prison, after agreeing to disband their political parties. In 2005, adult male citizens were allowed to vote for some municipal seats, although plans for future elections, which may include adult women, have been put on hold indefinitely.

Political parties are banned, but some political dissidents were freed in the 1990s on the condition that they disband their political parties. Today, only the Green Party of Saudi Arabia remains, although it is an illegal organization. Trade unions are also banned, but the government has granted permission for Saudi citizens to form some private societies, which are allowed to do some humanitarian work within the kingdom.

Public demonstrations or any public act of dissent are forbidden. In April 2011, during the 2011–2012 Saudi Arabian protests, the kingdom made it a crime to publish any criticism harming the reputation of government or religious leaders, or which harms the interests of the state.[107]

According to Human Rights Watch annual report 2016, Saudi Arabia continued to prosecute pro-reform activists and dissidents. Saudi Arabia's terrorism court sentenced Waleed Abu al-Khair, prominent activist, to 15 years. He was convicted on charges concerning his peaceful criticism of the human rights situation in his country. In July, authorities arrested Zuhair Kutbi, an activist, because of his discussion to a peaceful reform in media. In September 2015, all of banned –Saudi Civil Political Rights Association (ACPRA) founders were jailed.[108]

Political prisoners

Dissidents have been detained as political prisoners in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.[109] Protests and sit-ins calling for political prisoners to be released took place during the 2011–2012 Saudi Arabian protests in many cities throughout Saudi Arabia,[110][111][112][113][114] with security forces firing live bullets in the air on 19 August 2012 at a protest at al-Ha'ir Prison.[115] As of 2012, recent estimates of the number of political prisoners in Mabahith prisons range from an estimate of zero by the Ministry of Interior[111][116] to 30,000 by the UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission[109] and the BBC.[117]

Stateless people

There are 70,000 stateless people in Saudi Arabia, also known as Bedoon.[118] Some stateless are Yemenis who moved to Saudi Arabia, before the borders were in place.[119]

This problem is also prevalent in neighbouring UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.[120]

Human rights organizations

The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Arabian Peninsula is a Saudi Arabian human rights organization based in Beirut since 1992.[121][122]

The Human Rights First Society applied unsuccessfully for a governmental licence in 2002, but was allowed to function informally.[123] In 2004, the National Society for Human Rights, associated with the Saudi government, was created.[124][125] Most of the commission's directors are members of the Saudi "religious and political establishment" according to John R. Bradley.[126] The Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia was created in 2007 and is also unlicensed.[127]

The Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) was created in 2009.[128] One of its co-founders, Mohammed Saleh al-Bejadi, was arbitrarily arrested by Mabahith, the internal security agency, on 21 March 2011, during the 2011 Saudi Arabian protests.[129][130] Al-Bejadi was charged in the Specialized Criminal Court in August 2011 for "insurrection against the ruler, instigating demonstrations, and speaking with foreign [media] channels."[131] Another co-founder, Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, was charged for his human rights activities in June 2012.[132][133]

Sixteen people who tried to create a human rights organisation in 2007 were arrested in February 2007, charged in August 2010, and convicted on 22 November 2011 of "forming a secret [organization], attempting to seize power, incitement against the King, financing terrorism, and money laundering" and sentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court to 5–30 years' imprisonment, to be followed by travel bans.[134] They appealed on 22 January 2012.[135]

The Society for Development and Change was created in September 2011[136] and campaigns for equal human rights for Shia in Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia.[137] The organisation calls for a constitution and elected legislature for Eastern Province.[138]

LGBT rights

LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia are unrecognized. Homosexuality is frequently a taboo subject in Saudi Arabian society and is punished with imprisonment, corporal punishment and capital punishment. Transgenderism is generally associated with homosexuality and doctors are banned by the Saudi Ministry of Health from giving hormone replacement therapy to transexual patients.


By law, all Saudi citizens who are infected with HIV or AIDS are entitled to free medical care, protection of their privacy and employment opportunities. However, most hospitals will not treat patients who are infected, and many schools and hospitals are reluctant to distribute government information about the disease because of the strong taboos and stigma that are attached to how the virus can be spread.[139]

Until the late 1990s, information on HIV/AIDS was not widely available to the public, but this has started to change. In the late 1990s, the government started to recognize World AIDS Day and allowed information about the disease to be published in newspapers. The number of people living in the kingdom who were infected was a closely guarded secret. However, in 2003 the government announced the number of known cases of HIV/AIDS in the country to be 6,700, and over 10,000 in June 2008.[140]

Any foreigner found to be infected with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS (or, indeed, any other serious medical condition), is deported to their country of origin. Condoms are available in hospitals and pharmacies, and in some supermarkets as well.

International conventions

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ratified the International Convention against Torture in October 1997 according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Human rights of Saudi Arabia are specified in article 26 of the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia. Recently created human rights organisations include Human Rights First Society (2002),[123] Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia (2007),[127] Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (2009)[129][130] and the government-associated National Society for Human Rights (2004).[124][125] In 2008, the Shura Council ratified the Arab Charter on Human Rights.[141] In 2011, the Specialized Criminal Court was used to charge and sentence human rights activists.[131][134]

At the U.N. Third Millennium Summit in New York City, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz defended Saudi Arabia's position on human rights, saying "It is absurd to impose on an individual or a society rights that are alien to its beliefs or principles."[142]

See also


  1. Unattributed (February 28, 2005). "Country Reports on Humanhi Practices - 2004". US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour. Retrieved 2008-06-02. line feed character in |title= at position 27 (help)
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