Annual Report: Saudi Arabia 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Saudi Arabia 2011

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Head of state and government: King Abdullah bin 'Abdul 'Aziz Al-Saud
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 26.2 million
Life expectancy: 73.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 26/17 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 85.5 per cent


Over 100 suspects in security-related offences were detained in 2010. The legal status and conditions of imprisonment of thousands of security detainees arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy. At least two detainees died in custody, possibly as a result of torture, and new information came to light about methods of torture and other ill-treatment used against security detainees. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls remained subject to discrimination and violence, with some cases receiving wide media attention. Both Christians and Muslims were arrested for expressing their religious beliefs. Saudi Arabian forces involved in a conflict in northern Yemen carried out attacks that appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. Foreign migrant workers were exploited and abused by their employers. The authorities violated the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. At least 27 prisoners were executed, markedly fewer than in the two preceding years.


In February, the Minister of Justice said that Saudi Arabia aimed to build a justice system incorporating the best of other states' judicial systems, inc11luding to provide an effective legal framework against terrorism and to allow women lawyers to represent clients in courts dealing with domestic disputes. However, at the end of 2010 the justice system remained largely secret. A fatwa (No. 239 of 12 April 2010), criminalizing the "financing of terrorism", was issued by the Council of Senior 'Ulema. It provided judges with discretion to impose any sentence, including the death penalty.

In May, the King ordered the formation of a committee to streamline procedures based on Shari'a (Islamic law) and to limit corporal punishment; this was expected to limit floggings to 100 lashes, so ending judges' discretion that in some cases had led to sentences of tens of thousands of lashes. The reform had not been introduced by the end of 2010.

Counter-terror and security

Over 100 people were detained for suspected security-related offences, and the legal status of thousands of others arrested in previous years remained unclear and secret.

  • In March, the authorities said they had detained 113 such suspects in recent months: 58 Saudi Arabians, 52 Yemenis, one Somali, one Bangladeshi and one Eritrean national. One of the 58 Saudi Arabians, a woman named as Haylah al-Qassir, was reported to have been arrested in February in Buraidah. The 113 were said by the authorities to have comprised three armed cells and to have been planning violent attacks; they were said to have been uncovered after two suspected al-Qa'ida members were killed by security forces in October 2009 in Jizan province. No further information was disclosed.
  • Dr Ahmad 'Abbas Ahmad Muhammad, an Egyptian national, continued to be held at al-Hair prison in Riyadh. His legal status was unclear. He was arrested shortly after a suicide bombing in May 2003 in Riyadh which killed 35 people. He had reportedly travelled to Saudi Arabia from Egypt to take a job at a health centre.

At least 12 suspects detained in previous years were released in July apparently after the authorities decided that they no longer posed a threat after they attended a "rehabilitation programme". Ten others, all reported to be former Guantánamo Bay detainees returned to Saudi Arabia by the US authorities, received suspended prison sentences in March ranging from 3 to 13 years and were banned from travelling outside Saudi Arabia for five years. No details were available about their trial or the charges they faced. Some 15 other Saudi Arabians remained in US detention at Guantánamo Bay.