Hundreds of people were detained on security grounds in 2009, adding to the thousands arrested in previous years; all were held in virtual secrecy. Many were suspected supporters of Islamist groups. Typically, such detainees are held without charge or trial for months or years for investigation and interrogation, and without any means of challenging their detention. Most are held without access to lawyers and some are not permitted to see or communicate with their families for months or years. They are held in prisons where torture and other illtreatment are rife and used to obtain self-incriminating "confessions". If charged, they face grossly unfair trials, conducted in secret and without defence lawyers and in which defendants are questioned briefly by a three-man panel about their "confessions". Sentences range from death to flogging and terms of imprisonment. Some of those imprisoned are held beyond the expiry of their sentence. Others are held for indefinite periods for "re-education".
- In July, the government announced that 330 accused had been tried before a newly constituted specialized criminal court. Three were acquitted while 323 were sentenced to prison terms of up to 30 years, one was sentenced to death and three were banned from travelling abroad. Some of the 323 were said to have received additional punishments of fines or forced residence; others would be released only after "repenting". No details of the charges were disclosed or of the evidence on which defendants had been convicted, and no information was given about hundreds of others scheduled to be tried before the same court.
Prisoners of conscience
The authorities continued to detain peaceful government critics and human rights activists, including some arrested in previous years. They were prisoners of conscience.
- Seven men arrested in February 2007 in connection with a petition calling for detainees to be given fair trials or released and advocating the establishment of a human rights organization, continued to be detained without trial throughout 2009. They were held in solitary confinement at Dhahban prison. The Interior Ministry accused the seven - Al-Sharif Saif al-Ghalib, Dr Saud al-Hashimi, Abdel Rahman Khan, Musa al- Qirni, Fahd al-Qirshi, Sulieman al-Rushudi and Abdel Rahman al-Shumayri - of collecting money to fund terrorism, but they strongly denied this. In October, the Court of Grievances heard an appeal against the detention of Abdel Rahman al-Shumayri. In December, the Interior Ministry said that it was preparing to bring him to trial, but no proceedings had taken place by the end of the year.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Torture and other ill-treatment were common and committed with impunity. Methods used included severe beatings, electric shocks, suspension, sleep deprivation and insults.
- Dr Saud al-Hashimi, a prisoner of conscience held in solitary confinement since his arrest in February 2007, was reported to have been tortured and otherwise illtreated several days after he began a hunger strike in June to protest against his continuing detention. He was said to have been stripped to his underwear, shackled and dragged to an extremely cold cell, where he was held for five hours.
Discrimination and violence against women
Women continued to face severe discrimination in law and practice. Women had to have a male guardian to travel outside their home, get married or access many public services. Women remained banned from driving. In June, however, Saudi Arabian officials told the UNHRC that the government would take steps to reduce discrimination against women, although no significant changes had been introduced by the end of the year.