Human Rights Briefing: President Obama in Saudi Arabia and Egypt

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“As well as delivering his speech to the Muslim world and trying to kick-start the stalled Middle East peace process, President Obama should use this trip to deliver a few home truths to his hosts in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. His message should be unambiguous: both Saudi Arabia and Egypt's human rights records are atrocious and urgent reforms are long overdue.”

Unfair trials and detention
Thousands of people are detained without trial as terrorism suspects, and human rights activists and peaceful critics of the government are frequently detained and imprisoned. When trials occur in Saudi Arabia they are shrouded in secrecy and are generally poor in quality and unfair. Even in capital trials, defendants are rarely allowed legal assistance and can be convicted solely on the basis of confessions obtained under torture or by deception.

Death penalty
In 2008 at least 102 people (39 of them foreign nationals, typically poor migrant workers) were executed, many for non-violent crimes - including drug offences, “sodomy”, blasphemy and apostasy. Those sentenced to death are often not informed of the progress of the case against them or the date of execution until the morning when they are taken out and beheaded. Most capital trials are unfair and held behind closed doors, while executions are carried out in public. Last week (29 May) a man was publicly beheaded and then crucified (his body displayed in a cruciform position) after being convicted for murder and other crimes, including the “offence” of Luwat (homosexual intercourse). Another man recently had his 10-year prison sentence for drug smuggling increased to death. At least 38 people are known to have been executed in the Kingdom so far this year.

Torture and cruel punishments
Torture and other ill-treatment are widespread and committed with impunity by police and other officials in Saudi Arabia. Common methods are severe beatings with sticks, electric shocks, suspension from ceilings, sleep deprivation and insults. Flogging is often imposed as an additional punishment to imprisonment, with the number of lashes sometimes running into the 1000s.

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Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in Saudi Arabia face severe discrimination in law and practice and are inadequately protected against domestic violence. Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are subordinate to men under family law, are denied equal employment opportunities with men, are banned from driving vehicles or travelling alone, and Saudi Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights married to non-Saudis are unable to pass on their nationality to their Children's rights. Many migrant domestic workers, mostly Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, are kept in highly abusive conditions, being made to work up to 18 hours every day, in some cases for little or no pay. Domestic workers have no protection under Saudi labour law.

Unfair trials and detention
Egypt’s justice system is riddled with unfairness. The country holds thousands of political prisoners in administrative detention under emergency legislation, many of them for more than a decade. Last year Egypt’s Interior Ministry acknowledged that some 1,500 detainees were held administratively, though unofficial sources have put the figure at nearer 10,000. Grossly unfair trials are conducted before military and special courts, and civilians are frequently tried before military courts in breach of international fair trial standards.

Torture and other ill-treatment are systematic in police stations, prisons and State Security Investigation (SSI) detention centres. Most perpetrators enjoy complete impunity, while police often threaten victims with re-arrest or the arrest of relatives if they lodge complaints.

Clampdown on free expression
Egypt uses repressive laws to clamp down on criticism and dissent. Journalists are frequently prosecuted for defamation and other offences, and books and foreign newspapers are censored. Some internet websites are blocked and recently bloggers critical of the government have been arrested. Last year the director of the Cairo News company was fined approximately £17,000 for broadcasting footage of protesters destroying a poster of President Mubarak during a demonstration in April. In March last year Ibrahim Eissa, the editor of Al-Dustour newspaper, was sentenced to six months in prison (reduced to two months on appeal) for writing an article that questioned the president’s health. He was charged under the Penal Code for publishing information considered damaging to the public interest and national stability.

Death penalty
Two people were executed in 2008 and another 87 were sentenced to death.

Slums and poverty
According to official estimates, up to 11 million people in Egypt (about 15% of the population) live in as many as 1,000 slums (ashwaiyyat) that lack adequate basic services.


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