The authorities continued to hold in incommunicado detention suspected members and supporters of al-Qa'ida and Islamist groups. Thousands of security suspects arrested in previous years were believed to be held in virtual secrecy with no means to challenge their continuing imprisonment and without access to lawyers or doctors. Some were not permitted to see or communicate with their families. The authorities said hundreds were put on trial but provided no details, leading to concerns that such trials were secret and unfair.
There were several protests by family members of security detainees. On 23 September, scores of people, including women and children, gathered in the desert near al-Tarfiya prison in Qassim Province to call for the release of their detained relatives. They were surrounded by security forces and forced to remain without food or water until the following day, when a number of men among the protesters were arrested, beaten and detained.
In October, the authorities said that anyone who demonstrated would face prosecution and be “firmly dealt with” by members of the security forces. Despite this, relatives of security detainees held a protest outside the Saudi Arabian Human Rights Commission in Riyadh. The security forces cordoned off the area and arrested at least 22 women, eight children and more than 20 men when they refused to disperse. One man was beaten and one woman kicked by security officials. Most were released after they agreed to sign undertakings not to protest again; however, some 15 men continued to be detained.
Discrimination – Shi'a minority
There were protests in Eastern Province by members of the minority Shi'a community, who alleged long-term discrimination on account of their faith. The security forces were alleged to have used excessive force at times against the protesters. Some 10 protesters were reportedly shot dead and others injured by security forces, during or in connection with the Eastern Province protests. The authorities said the deaths and injuries occurred when security forces were confronted by people with firearms or Molotov cocktails, but such incidents were not independently investigated. Some 155 men and 20 children were believed to be held without charge in connection with the protests at the end of the year.
- On 26 September, two men were killed and a third was fatally injured in unclarified circumstances when security forces raided a house in search of a man wanted for allegedly “stirring up unrest”. No official investigation into the deaths was known to have been held.
Several men were reportedly sentenced to flogging for participating in the Eastern Province protests and others banned from travelling abroad. Shi'a clerics who publicly advocated reform or criticized the government were detained and in some cases charged with disobeying the ruler and other offences.
- Sheikh Nimr Baqir al Nimr, a frequent critic of discrimination against the Shi'a minority, was arrested on 8 July in al-Awwamiya in Eastern Province, apparently because of comments he allegedly made following the death of the Interior Minister Prince Naif bin ‘Abdul Aziz Al Saud. He received a gunshot wound in disputed circumstances at the time of his arrest. The authorities said he was an “instigator of sedition” who was shot at a checkpoint as he and others resisted arrest and sought to flee; however, his family said he was alone and unarmed when detained. He was still detained without charge or trial at the end of the year.
- Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amer, a Shi'a Muslim cleric and advocate of reform detained since August 2011, was charged with incitement against the authorities, slandering the Council of Senior Scholars and other offences in August. He was sentenced in December to three years' imprisonment followed by a five-year travel ban and a ban on giving sermons and speeches.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and sentenced prisoners were reported to be common, widespread and generally committed with impunity. Reported methods included beating, suspension by the limbs and sleep deprivation. Those tortured reportedly included detained protesters, who were held incommunicado for days or weeks without charge or trial.