Death penalty retentionist
Population 25.7 million
Life expectancy 72.7 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 26/17 per 1,000
Adult literacy 85 per cent
The authorities used a wide range of repressive measures to suppress freedom of expression and other legitimate activities. Hundreds of people were arrested as suspected terrorists. Thousands of others arrested in the name of security in previous years remained in jail; they included prisoners of conscience. Some 330 security suspects received unfair trials before a newly constituted but closed specialized court; one was sentenced to death and 323 were sentenced to terms of imprisonment.
Women continued to face severe discrimination in law and practice, despite some signs of reform. The state did little to tackle widespread violence against women, particularly against domestic workers. Shi'a Muslims and others were targeted for practising their faith. The rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers were violated. The administration of justice remained shrouded in secrecy and was summary in nature. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees were systematic and carried out with impunity. Sentences of flogging were regularly imposed. The death penalty was used extensively. At least 69 people were executed, including two juvenile offenders.
In February, during the UN Human Rights Council's (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Saudi Arabia, the government undertook to introduce various reforms while asserting that the country's laws were based on religious concepts. In May, Saudi Arabia was re-elected to the UNHRC.
In February, for the first time a woman was appointed to be a deputy minister in the government, and the Supreme Court began to function as the highest court of appeal as provided for under the 2007 Law of the Judiciary. The Courts of Cassation were also replaced by courts of appeal.
In July, the government introduced the country's first law against human trafficking, said to be a significant problem; those convicted of trafficking face up to 15 years' imprisonment and a fine.
Attacks by members or supporters of al-Qa'ida were reported. In August, the Deputy Interior Minister was reported to have been wounded in an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber. In October, the Interior Ministry said two men had been killed in a clash with security forces and militants in Jizan province and that six Yemeni nationals had been arrested.
In the last months of 2009, the conflict in Yemen's Sa'da region spilled over into Saudi Arabia and several Saudi Arabian soldiers were reported to have been killed by Yemeni rebel fighters. Saudi Arabian jets attacked the Yemeni rebels; it was unclear whether the authorities took adequate precautions to protect civilians from such attacks. The government sought to close the border to refugees fleeing from the conflict. Those who crossed from Sa'da were forcibly returned to Yemen.
Counter-terror and security
The authorities used a range of repressive measures in the name of countering terrorism, undermining embryonic legal reforms. Vague and broadly written anti-terrorism laws were used to suppress freedom of expression and other legitimate activities. The security forces failed to respect even these laws, knowing they could act with impunity.