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Saudi Arabia: Promises on human rights 'nothing but hot air'

Saudi Arabia has completely failed to live up to its international promises to address the country’s dire human rights situation, said Amnesty International today (21 October), ahead of a UN meeting in Geneva on Monday to scrutinise Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights performance is due to be examined later today by the UN’s Human Rights Council under a process known as the 'Universal Periodic Review'.

In its own submission to the review process, Amnesty has accused the Saudi Arabian authorities of failing to implement any of the main recommendations from the last review in 2009. Instead, Amnesty has documented a new wave of repression against Saudi civil society over the last two years. Many of these human rights violations - against human rights activists, protesters and Shi’as - have taken place under the guise of security or counter-terrorism measures.

'Saudi Arabia’s previous promises to the UN have been proven to be nothing but hot air. It relies on its political and economic clout to deter the international community from criticising its dire human rights record.

'Four years ago, Saudi Arabian diplomats came to Geneva and accepted a string of recommendations to improve human rights in the country. Since then, not only have the authorities failed to act, but they have ratcheted up the repression.'
Philip Luther, Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director

Prisoners of conscience

Those imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression or association include the founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Organisation (ACPRA), one of the country’s most prominent independent human rights organisations. On 9 March, two ACPRA co-founders - Dr Abdullah bin Hamid bin Ali al-Hamid, 66, and Mohammad bin Fahad bin Muflih al-Qahtani, 47 - were sentenced to ten and 11 years imprisonment respectively. Even on their release they will be subjected to travel bans of at least ten years. Other co-founders of the group have also been imprisoned and a court has ordered the disbanding of the organisation, confiscation of its property and the shutting down of its social media accounts.

'These men are prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally. Their peaceful activism against human rights violations deserves praise not punishment. The only guilty party here is the government.'
Philip Luther

Torture and other ill-treatment

Corporal punishment is used extensively, including flogging and amputation. In some cases the sentence for theft is amputation of the right hand, and for highway robbery “cross amputation” (amputation of the right hand and left foot). Flogging is mandatory for a number of offences and sentences can range from dozens to tens of thousands of lashes.

Torture and other ill-treatment during detention are rife and carried out with impunity. Some of the common methods used include punching, beating with sticks, suspension from the ceiling or cell doors by the ankles or wrists, application of electric shocks to the body, prolonged sleep deprivation and being placed in cold cells. The heavy reliance by the courts on “confessions” - often extracted under torture, duress or deception - has entrenched such abuses. One detainee arrested in 2011 told Amnesty how he was tortured for ten days until he agreed to sign a 'confession'. He said he was made to stand for prolonged periods with his arms raised, beaten with an electric cable, struck in the face, back and stomach, and threatened that he would be raped by other prisoners.

Systemic discrimination of women

Women are required to obtain the permission of a male guardian before getting married, travelling, undergoing certain surgical interventions, undertaking paid employment or enrolling in higher education. Women are still not allowed to drive.

Abuse of migrant workers

Migrant worker are one of the most vulnerable groups in the country and are not protected by labour laws. They are vulnerable to exploitation and abuses at the hands of private and government employers.

Discrimination against minority groups

Shi’a Muslims in the Eastern Province have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions on suspicion of taking part or supporting demonstrations or expressing views critical of the state.


Executions in Saudi Arabia are frequently based on summary trials and 'confessions' extracted under torture. The country remains one of the top five executioners in the world - at least 79 executions are known to have been carried out there in 2012. The death penalty is applied to a wide range of non-lethal crimes such as adultery, armed robbery, apostasy, drug smuggling, kidnapping, rape, 'witchcraft' and 'sorcery'.

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