Saudi Arabia: human rights briefing 30 October 2007
Posted: 30 October 2007
Amnesty international UK Director Kate Allen said:
'Gordon Brown should use this meeting with the Saudi King to make absolutely clear that the extent and severity of human rights abuses in King Abdullah's country are totally unacceptable. Mr Brown's message should be: reforms need to come, and they need to come quickly.'
Despite some limited recent reform initiatives, the human rights situation is still bleak. Last year, for example, scores of people suspected of belonging to or supporting armed groups were reported to have been arrested but the authorities did not divulge their identities or other information about them, and it was unclear whether any were charged and brought to trial. Peaceful critics of the government were subjected to prolonged detention without charge or trial. There were allegations of torture, and floggings continued to be imposed by the courts. Violence against women was prevalent and migrant workers suffered discrimination and abuse. Thirty-nine people were executed (with more than three times that number already put to death in 2007).
Unfair trials and arbitrary detentions
Official Saudi figures also show that currently there are at least 3,000 political detainees held without charge or trial.
In July Saudi Arabia executed Dhahian Rakan al-Sibai'I. According to the newspaper Okaz, Al-Sibai'i was sentenced to death for a murder committed while he was still a child and was held in a juvenile detention facility until he was 18 years old. As with all death sentences, his punishment was ratified by the Supreme Judicial Council, headed by the King. The execution of child offenders is prohibited under international law.
Another person currently at risk of execution is Rizana Nafeek, a domestic worker from Sri Lanka, who was sentenced to death in June for the alleged murder of an infant in her care. She was arrested in May 2005, had no access to lawyers either during interrogation or at her trial and was believed to have confessed to the murder during police questioning. She has since retracted her confession. Rizana was reportedly only 17 at the time of the alleged crime, which again would make her a child offender.
Torture and ill-treatment
· Ma'idh Al-Saleem was finally released last November following a pardon by King Abdullah. Originally arrested in 2001, aged 16, he was reportedly tortured for several days until he "confessed" to making "verbal comments contrary to Shar'ia". He was sentenced to death but this was later reduced on appeal to 14 years' imprisonment and 4,000 lashes. He was subjected to repeated sessions of 50 lashes at a time.
British 'bomb plot' detainees
During their time in prison, the men - Scottish tax accountant Ron Jones, Alexander Mitchell, an anaesthetic technician, Dr. William Sampson, a marketing consultant, and Leslie Walker, a housing and compound manager - all allege that they were repeatedly tortured, and all continue to endure severe psychological and physical harm as a result.
Jones was released without charge after two months, but torture and solitary confinement during more than two and a half years in prison led Mitchell, Sampson and Walker to make televised false confessions to the bombings and to having acted as spies for the UK government. This was followed by a closed court conviction without legal representation. After a secret trial, a Saudi court sentenced Mitchell and Sampson to death by Al Haad (partial-beheading and strained suspension on an X-frame) and sentenced Walker to 18 years'. Following worldwide protests and more than 900 days in captivity, they were eventually released on an order of clemency.
The men later sought damages from the Saudi government in the UK courts. However, in June 2006 the House of Lords dismissed this claim. The UK government's Department of Constitutional Affairs had intervened in the case to argue that countries that torture as well as their officials should be immune from any accountability. Amnesty International denounced the Lords' ruling as a 'sad day for British justice'.