Ten ways that Saudi Arabia violates human rights

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Saudi Arabian ruler King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud © YOAN VALAT/AFP/Getty Images

In February 2015, the Saudi Arabian authorities publicly flogged blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for 'insulting Islam' and founding an online forum for political debate.

Due to be flogged 50 times every week, Raif’s lashes have so far been postponed on a weekly basis. For the first couple of weeks in January, the authorities cited medical advice given by doctors who examined Raif, who had found his wounds ‘hadn’t healed enough’ for him to be flogged again ‘safely’. Latterly, the Saudi Arabian authorities have refrained from flogging Raif, without giving a reason. He continues to be told on a weekly basis whether his 950 lashes will begin again that week.

Raif has made headlines around the world. But his case is just the tip of the iceberg for the Gulf Kingdom’s appalling human rights record.

Here are ten ways Saudi Arabia is violating its citizens’ human rights:

1. Torture is used as a punishment

Courts in Saudi Arabia continue to sentence people to be punished by torture for many offences, often following unfair trials. Corporal punishment like flogging, for example, is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment that has no place in the justice system.

Besides Raif, in the past two years the human rights defenders Mikhlif bin Daham al-Shammari and Omar al-Sa’id were sentenced to 200 and 300 lashes respectively, and Filipino domestic worker Ruth Cosrojas was sentenced to 300.

There are other forms of torture issued as punishment: Saudi authorities have carried out amputations, including ‘cross amputations’ (where the opposite hand and foot are removed) on people found guilty of robbery.

2. Executions are on the increase

Saudi Arabia is among the world’s top executioners, with dozens of people being executed by the state every year, many of them in public beheadings.

So far this year Saudi Arabia has executed 40 people – almost four times as many as the same period last year.

3. No free speech

Besides Raif Badawi, dozens more outspoken activists remain behind bars, simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

In the last two years, all of Saudi Arabia’s prominent and independent human rights defenders have been imprisoned, threatened into silence, or fled the country. The authorities have targeted the small but vocal community of human rights defenders, including by using anti-terrorism laws to suppress their peaceful actions to expose and address human rights violations.

4. No protests

Going to a public gathering, including a demonstration, is a criminal act, under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those who defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as ‘inciting people against the authorities’.

5. Women are widely discriminated against  

Women and girls remain subject to discrimination in law and practice, with laws that ensure they are subordinate citizens to men - particularly in relation to family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

Women who supported a campaign against a ban on women drivers face the threat of arrest and other harassment and intimidation.

6. Torture in police custody is common

Former detainees, trial defendants and others have told us that the security forces frequently use torture in detention, and that those responsible are never brought to justice.

7. You can be detained and arrested with no good reason

Scores of people have been arrested and detained in pre-trial detention for six months or more, which breaches the Kingdom’s own criminal codes. Detainees are frequently held incommunicado during their interrogation and denied access to their lawyers. Some human rights activists have been detained without charge or trial for more than two years.

8. Religious discrimination is rife

Members of the Kingdom’s Shi’a minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face entrenched discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Shi’a activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.

9. Migrant workers have been deported en masse

According to the Interior Ministry, a crackdown on irregular foreign migrant workers in November 2013 led to the deportation of more than 370,000 people. Some 18,000 were still being detained last March. Thousands of people were summarily returned to Somalia, Yemen or other states where they could face human rights abuses on return.

10. Human rights organisations banned

The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact us.