Saudi Arabia



At least 41 Sri Lankan women migrant workers have been detained in Saudi Arabia for up to 18 months. Three women have young children with them, and one woman is known to be in urgent need of medical care. None of the women have been informed of any charges against them, nor have they been granted any legal support to better understand the length or reason for their detention. Sri Lankan authorities must proactively take measures to ensure their immediate repatriation so that these women are able to return home and reunite with their families. Take action here

urgent action

NassimaIn March 2021, the Court of Appeals in Riyadh upheld the verdict of Saudi Arabian woman human rights defender Nassima al-Sada, confirming the final sentence of a five-year prison term followed by a five-year travel ban. Nassima al-Sada had appealed the sentence handed down to her on November 25, 2020, which was based on cybercrime laws but failed to specify the exact crimes allegedly committed by the activist. Nassima al-Sada is detained simply for her peaceful activism for civil and political rights, and for her advocacy for women’s rights and the end of the repressive male guardianship system. Write to the Saudi Ambassador to the US and ask that Nassima be released so she can spend Ramadan with her family.

URGENT ACTIONmohammed al-khudari

The health of 83-year-old Palestinian national detained in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Mohammed al-Khudari, has been deteriorating due to the lack of access to adequate health care, including care for his bladder catheterization, compounding bad detention conditions. Dr. Mohammed al-Khudari had undergone surgery and was being treated for prostate cancer when the Saudi authorities arbitrarily arrested him and his son, Dr. Hani al-Khudari on 4 April 2019. One year later, Dr. Mohammed al-Khudari and Dr. Hani al-Khudari were brought before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in a mass trial marred by serious due process violations, including being denied adequate access to a lawyer throughout this period. Click here to join Amnesty International’s calls on King Salman to release them both immediately and provide Dr. Mohammed al-Khudari with urgent medical care.

URGENT ACTIONloujain_current

On 10 February, woman human rights defender Loujain al-Hathloul was conditionally released after being sentenced in December 2020 to a prison term of five years and eight months following a deeply unfair trial. She was convicted of charges related to her women’s rights work. She has appealed the sentence. Loujain al-Hathloul continues to be on probation for two years and 10 months, partially suspended from her sentence, and faces a five-year travel ban. Click here to call on the authorities to ensure her sentence is quashed, and effectively investigate her claims of torture while in detention.

Updates on POCs

Fears are growing for the health and wellbeing of imprisoned human rights defender Mohammed al-Qahtani, who has been held incommunicado after testing positive for COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia’s Al Ha’ir prison, said Amnesty International. Al-Qahtani, co-founder of the now disbanded Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), formerly one of Saudi Arabia’s few independent human rights organizations, is serving a 10-year prison sentence solely for his peaceful activism. His wife told Amnesty International that his family have had no contact with him since he tested positive for COVID-19 10 days ago. Al-Qahtani is being unjustly punished for his peaceful activism and should not even be in prison. The Saudi authorities must release him immediately and unconditionally. Pending his release, they must ensure he is allowed to contact his family without any delay and is given adequate medical attention.

Sulaimon Olufemi, a Nigerian national, has been languishing in Saudi prisons for 18 years and under the sentence of death for about 16 years. He was arrested in 2002, days after coming to Saudi Arabia, for allegedly killing a police officer. For over 18 years, Olufemi has maintained his innocence and for years Amnesty International stayed committed to his case and remains determined to end the injustice he has been subjected to. From April 20 to May 21, we are campaigning to raise awareness of Olufemi’s case. Please join us by raising his case on your social media channels.


Sample tweets:
  • Sulaimon has been locked up for almost two decades for a crime he did not commit. @KingSalman show mercy this holy month of #Ramadan #ClemencyForSulaimon and let him reunite with his family.
  • #Nigerian authorities must protect their own citizen from injustice. We urge @MBuhari to save Sulaimon from execution by calling on Saudi authorities to grant Sulaimon clemency #ClemencyForSulaimon.
  • “I miss Sulaimon, it took me a long time before I started having children, before God gave him to me. God please help me. The authorities should have mercy and release my son” – Sulaimon’s mother to @amnesty @KingSalman grant Sulaimon clemency so that his mother can see him again! #ClemencyForSulaimon

Saudi Arabia: Key Issues

Stand with Saudi Heroes

  • Women’s rights:
    • Several activists were detained in a wave of arrests in May 2018, including prominent women human rights defenders (WHRDs) who faced torture, sexual harassment, and other ill-treatment. While some have been convicted of trumped up charges and conditionally released, some still remain in detention without charge.
    • Others detained in April 2019, including family members of WHRDs, remain in detention without charge for supporting the women’s rights movement.
  • Shrinking civic space:
    • Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, writers, artists, religious clerics, protestors and bloggers have been persecuted, silenced, detained, tortured and handed lengthy prison sentences for demanding reforms and advocating for peaceful change.
    • Several were sentenced to death and executed based on so-called “confessions” extracted under torture.


How Can Your Group Get Involved?

Case Commitment Initiative:

  • The Case Commitment Initiative is when a Local or Student Group works on a case on a long term basis.
    • They choose a case or a few, create a strategy in conjunction with an AIUSA Country Specialists and IAR staff, and then advocate on behalf of that case.
  • Main targets:
    • Country embassy and ambassador
      • Action: sending letters, emails, and social media
    • Your state’s representatives
      • Action: asking them to share content on social media or to send letters to the ambassador

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project:

  • In 2012 the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission created the Defending Freedoms Project (DFP) to support Prisoners of Conscience around the world.
  • The DFP aims to match members of Congress with Prisoners of Conscience so that they can advocate on their behalf and hopefully get them released.
  • The DFP is open to both members of the House and the Senate.
  • You can ask your state’s representatives to take up a Prisoner of Conscience case (in conjunction with the AIUSA Country Specialist and IAR staff)

Join the MENA RAN:

  • The Middle East & North Africa Regional Action Network (MENA RAN) consists of people who are interested in working on the Amnesty International actions in this region.
  • Who can join
    • Anybody who is interested in working on AI actions in this region.
  • By joining this network, you will receive monthly action and instructions on actions.
  • How to join:

Follow us on Twitter:


STATUS OF Human Rights (2019 Report)



In December, Saudi Arabia assumed the presidency of the G20, the next meeting of which is due to be held in its capital, Riyadh, in November 2020. Before this, the authorities announced several reforms, including the introduction of tourist visas for citizens of 49 countries.

Amnesty International continued to be denied entry to Saudi Arabia. In January, the organization called on the authorities to allow it and other independent monitors access to detained activists, including women human rights defenders, following allegations of torture, ill-treatment and sexual harassment of at least 10 detained activists.[1] Amnesty International received no response. The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders sent reminders to the Saudi Arabian authorities for requests to visit the country in 2019. No response was reported.

Saudi Arabia remained a member of the coalition imposing economic and political sanctions on Qatar, along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Saudi Arabia continued to co-lead the coalition in neighbouring Yemen, a coalition that is implicated in war crimes and other serious violations of international law (see Yemen entry). In September, a drone attack for which Yemen’s Huthis claimed responsibility targeted facilities of the state-owned oil company Aramco in Abqaiq, Eastern Province and cut Saudi Arabia’s oil production by about half for several weeks.

Freedom of expression, association and assembly

The authorities escalated repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including in their crackdown on online expression. They harassed, arbitrarily detained and prosecuted government critics, human rights defenders, members of the Shi’a minority and family members of activists.

In April, the authorities arbitrarily arrested 14 individuals for their peaceful support of the women’s rights movement and women human rights defenders. Among them were Salah al-Haidar, the son of Aziza al-Yousef, who remained on trial for her women’s rights work; Abdullah al-Duhailan, a journalist, novelist and advocate for Palestinian rights; and Fahad Abalkhail, who supported the Women to Drive Campaign. They remained in detention without charge or trial at the end of the year. In November, the authorities arbitrarily detained at least 10 men and women, including entrepreneurs, writers and intellectuals, for a week. Activists believe that the majority were released without charge.

The authorities continued to try individuals before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), a counter-terror court, on charges arising from the peaceful expression of views, in some cases on capital charges. Religious cleric Salman al-Awda, who had been arbitrarily detained since September 2017, remained at risk of the death penalty after the public prosecution called for his execution on charges related to, among other things, his alleged affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood and his calls for government reforms and regime change in Arab countries.

The authorities did not permit the formation of political parties, trade unions or independent human rights groups, and continued to prosecute and imprison those who set up or participated in unlicensed human rights organizations. All gatherings, including peaceful demonstrations, remained prohibited under an order issued by the Ministry of Interior in 2011.

Human rights defenders

The authorities continued to arrest, prosecute and imprison human rights defenders for their peaceful activities and human rights work under, among other legislation, the counter-terrorism law and the cybercrime law, which criminalizes online criticism of government policies and practice as well as commentary on current affairs. By the end of the year, virtually all Saudi Arabian human rights defenders were in detention without charge, or were on trial or serving prison terms.

After more than a year in detention, 11 women activists, including human rights defenders Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, were brought to trial before the Criminal

Court in Riyadh in March 2019. Two other women human rights defenders, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada, were brought to trial three months later, in June.[2] The court sessions were closed and diplomats and journalists were banned from attending. Several women activists faced charges for contacting foreign media, other activists and international organizations, including Amnesty International. Some were also charged with “promoting women’s rights” and “calling for the end of the male guardianship system”. While eight of the 13 women activists were temporarily released in 2019, the five women human rights defenders among them remained in detention; all 13 remained on trial at the end of the year.

The authorities continued to arbitrarily detain human rights defenders for prolonged periods without bringing them before a judge or charging them. Mohammed al-Bajadi, a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, remained held without charge or trial since his detention in May 2018.

In July, Mohammad al-Otaibi, already serving a 14-year prison sentence for his human rights work, was brought before the SCC for additional charges related to his communication with international organizations and attempt to seek political asylum in 2017. He remained on trial on the new charges at the end of 2019.

Government critics abroad

In September, on the first anniversary of the extrajudicial execution in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Crown Prince stated that he bore full responsibility for the killing because “it happened under my watch”. In December, the Public Prosecution announced that eight individuals suspected of involvement in the murder had been convicted; five were sentenced to death and three to prison terms. The authorities permitted the attendance of diplomats throughout the trial, which began in January, but closed the trial to journalists and the broader public, failed to provide information on the proceedings and thereby prevented independent monitoring.[3]

Saudi Arabia failed to co-operate with an inquiry by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions into the murder. The inquiry concluded in June that Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of a deliberate, premeditated extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia was responsible. The Special Rapporteur found “credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s”. The report also revealed abuses committed by the Saudi Arabian authorities or non-state actors associated with it against other dissidents abroad, abduction, enforced disappearance, threats, harassment and electronic surveillance, as well as psychological threats targeting the families of detained activists.[4]

In November, two former employees of Twitter were charged by US federal prosecutors with spying for Saudi Arabia by accessing information on dissidents who used Twitter. Among those targeted was Omar Abdulaziz, a prominent Saudi Arabian dissident residing in Canada.

Death penaltytweet

Courts continued to impose death sentences for a wide range of crimes and carried out scores of executions; there was an increase in executions for drug offences and terrorism-related crimes. The authorities generally failed to abide by international standards of fair trial and safeguards for defendants in capital cases. Such cases were often held in secret and their proceedings were summary with no legal assistance or representation for defendants, as well as no translation services for foreign nationals, through the various stages of detention and trial. Death sentences were regularly based on “confessions” that defendants said were extracted under torture.

On 23 April, 37 Saudi Arabian men were executed. They had been convicted in various trials before the SCC. Most were Shi’a Muslims convicted after grossly unfair trials that relied on “confessions” tainted by torture allegations. Among the 37 were 11 convicted of spying for Iran. At least 15 others were convicted of violent offences related to their participation in anti-government demonstrations in the Shi’a-majority Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012. They were subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention and told the court that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogation to make them “confess”. Among them was Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, a young Shi’a man who was arrested when aged 16.[5]

Those who remained at risk of execution at the end of the year included other individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of their alleged offence. Some of these death sentences appeared to have been based solely on “confessions” that the defendants said were obtained through torture or other ill-treatment.

The authorities routinely failed to warn families of their relatives’ imminent execution or inform them immediately after the executions. Families of the Shi’a men executed on 23 April only found out that their loved ones had been executed when the authorities announced the news publicly on the same day. The authorities also failed to return the bodies of those executed to their families or inform them of the place of burial.

Women’s rights


In August, in a positive and long-overdue development, the authorities announced major reforms to the discriminatory male guardianship system. Among other things, these allowed women aged over 21 to apply for and obtain a passport and travel without the permission of a male guardian; women aged over 18 to register the birth of a newborn child, the death of a relative and their own marriage or divorce, as well as to apply for and obtain a family record; and women to act as the head of a household. While the reforms brought the recognition of women’s rights in these areas into line with those of men and also eased major restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, they did not abolish the guardianship system.[6] The reforms did not allow women to marry without the permission of a guardian or to provide consent for her children to marry. Women and girls continued to face systematic discrimination in law and in practice in other areas such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and the ability to pass on citizenship to their children.

Women and girls remained inadequately protected from sexual and other forms of violence. They continued to need a male guardian’s permission to leave shelters for those who had experienced domestic abuse.

In January, the Shura Council approved regulations for early marriage that prohibit marriage contracts for girls and boys under the age of 15. The draft regulations also stipulated that applications for a medical report to assess the maturity of individuals aged under 18 wishing to marry and for the marriage itself must be heard by a specialized court.

Migrants’ rights

In October, the authorities announced that they had granted citizenship to more than 50,000 individuals and their families and had issued identity documents to more than 800,000 people who had moved to Saudi Arabia “following political, economic and social turmoil in their home countries”. The documents would enable the recipients to work and access education and health care. Saudi Arabia continue to deny asylum-seekers access to a fair refugee determination process.

Meanwhile, the authorities continued their crackdown on irregular migrants. In November, the Ministry of Interior announced that, in the previous two years, about 4.1 million people had been arrested and over 1 million deported in a campaign targeting migrants accused of violating residential, border security and labour regulations and laws. In 2019 alone, over 2 million foreign workers were arrested and 500,000 were deported.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, Ethiopian migrant workers detained for labour law violations were tortured and otherwise ill-treated in detention facilities across the country; migrant workers said they had been beaten, denied food or water and chained together in overcrowded cells.

According to reports, over 900 Bangladeshi domestic migrant workers returned home from Saudi Arabia in 2019. Over 100 of them had been living in a shelter in Saudi Arabia after alleging that their employers had subjected them to physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Others said that they had been forced to work without pay.

Discrimination – Shi’a minority

Shi’a Muslims continued to face discrimination because of their faith, limiting their right to express religious beliefs and access justice, as well as their right to work in a number of public sector professions and access state services.

A number of Shi’a activists accused of supporting or taking part in demonstrations in Eastern Province or expressing views critical of the government were prosecuted imprisoned or faced the death penalty in ongoing trials. Others were executed following unfair trials in previous years.





Saudi Arabia Newsroom

February 4, 2021 • Press Release

As Biden Ends Support to Conflict in Yemen, Arms Flows Must Also be Stopped

Responding an announcement today from the Biden administration that the United States will cease support to the Saudi/UAE-led coalition engaged in Yemen, Philippe Nassif, the advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa said:

December 10, 2020 • Press Release

Abuse of Protesters and Prisoners Highlights Urgent Need to Regulate Torture Tools

The world must act urgently to prohibit the global trade in equipment designed to inflict excruciating pain and injury, Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation said today, ahead of a high-level UN meeting on the ‘torture trade’. In a new report, Ending the Torture Trade: The Path to Global Controls on the ‘Tools of Torture’, the organizations also called for controls on standard policing equipment to ensure it does not end up in the hands of abusers.

November 19, 2020 • Press Release

G20 leaders, don’t buy the spin: Saudi Arabia’s real changemakers are in jail

G20 leaders attending this weekend’s virtual summit hosted by Saudi Arabia must take the Saudi authorities to task for their shameless hypocrisy on women’s rights, Amnesty International said today. Women’s empowerment features prominently on Saudi Arabia’s G20 Agenda, despite the fact the activists who spearheaded campaigns for women’s rights are languishing in jail or …

May 14, 2020 • Press Release

Anniversary marks two-year detention of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia

Amnesty International is calling on King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia to release several notable women’s rights defenders, two years after they were detained. On May 15, 2018, a number of prominent Saudi women’s human rights activists were arrested. They had been peacefully advocating for years for the right of women in the kingdom to drive, as well as broader reforms related to the repressive male guardianship system.

April 24, 2020 • Press Release

Prisoner of Conscience in Saudi Arabia: Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid Dies While in Detention

Responding to news of the death of Dr Abdullah al-Hamid, a prisoner of conscience who passed away while in detention in Saudi Arabia, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said:

April 20, 2020 • Report

Death penalty 2019: Global executions fell by 5%, hitting a 10-year low

Saudi Arabia executed a record number of people in 2019, despite an overall decline in executions worldwide, Amnesty International said in its 2019 global review of the death penalty published …

April 17, 2020 • Press Release

Prisoner of conscience in coma still detained in Saudi Arabia during COVID-19 pandemic

The Saudi Arabian authorities must immediately release Dr Abdullah al-Hamid, a prisoner of conscience who remains detained despite being in coma and in critical condition, Amnesty International said today. Dr …

January 31, 2020 • Press Release

Saudi Arabian Arms Ship Bahri Yanbu Faces Growing Opposition in European Ports

Lawsuits, protests and other actions are planned in several European ports to oppose this week’s return of the Bahri Yanbu, a Saudi Arabian state-owned cargo ship that has previously ferried tens of millions of dollars’ worth of arms to fuel the war in Yemen, Amnesty International said today.

January 13, 2020 • Press Release

Why Amnesty Will Not Attend Sham C20 Meetings in Saudi Arabia

The global C20 civil society forum hosted this year by Saudi Arabia is a farcical attempt by the new G20 hosts to whitewash their dire human rights record, Amnesty International said.

December 23, 2019 • Press Release

Khashoggi verdict in Saudi Arabia a whitewash

Responding to a Saudi Arabian court’s sentencing of five people to death and three others to prison for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research …