HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, 1999 REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN SAUDIA ARABIA
Human Rights Developments
The government of Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, continued to violate a broad array of civil and political rights, allowing no criticism of the government, no political parties, nor any other potential challenges to its system of government. Arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, torture, and corporal and capital punishment remained the norm in both political and common criminal cases, with at least twenty-two executions and three judicial amputations of the hand carried out by mid-October. Human rights abuses were facilitated by the absence of an independent judiciary and the lack of public scrutiny by an elected representative body or a free press.
Women continued to face institutionalized discrimination affecting their freedom of movement and association and their right to equality in employment and education. Muslim religious practices deemed heterodox by government-appointed Islamic scholars and all non-Muslim religious practices were banned and subject to criminal prosecution. In July the Philippines embassy in Riyadh reported that twelve Filipino nationals who had been detained in early June on charges of proselytizing and handing out bibles were deported to the Philippines. A Dutch citizen arrested at the same time was also deported.
Labor laws banned the right to organize and bargain collectively and gave employers control over foreign workers freedom of movement. Many foreign workers were denied promised wages and benefits and suffered under oppressive labor conditions. Labor protections did not extend to domestic workers, and labor courts rarely enforced the few protections provided by law when workers sought to have the terms of their contracts honored or pursued similar claims. In July the Council of Ministers issued a decision placing new limits on foreigners holding public sector jobs and prohibiting foreign workers with less than ten years in Saudi Arabia from acquiring new expertise. The restrictions followed a campaign to limit the number of foreign workers begun in July 1997, and in August the government announced that over 750,000 foreign workers had been expelled for violating residency regulations since October 1997.
The Saudi government has not disseminated a penal code or code of criminal procedure, and only a limited number of laws existed in published form. The Saudi monarchy enjoyed broad powers, enabling the king to appoint and dismiss judges and to create special courts, undermining judicial independence. In addition, principles of Islamic law were subject to reinterpretation by government-appointed religious leaders. Judges enjoyed broad discretion in defining criminal offenses and setting punishments, which included severe floggings, amputations, and beheading, and in determining which witnesses would be called to testify. These factors encouraged arbitrariness in sentencing and allowed great scope for manipulation of the justice system by well-connected interested parties.
Under the Principles of Arrest, Temporary Confinement, and Preventative Detention regulations issued by the minister of interior in 1983, detainees had no right to judicial review, could be held for fifty-one days before their detention was reviewed by the regional governor, and could be held indefinitely if neither the governor nor minister of interior ordered their release or trial. Detainees had no right to legal counsel, to examine witnesses, or to call witnesses in their own defense. Saudi law also allowed conviction on the basis of uncorroborated confessions. In cases of crimes involving national security, the minister of interior had virtually unlimited authority over suspects in crimes against state security, which were defined so broadly as to encompass nonviolent opposition to the government.
Foreigners were particularly vulnerable to manipulation of the judicial system, as in the case of Farzana Kausar and her three small children, all Pakistani nationals, who were detained for almost ten months, apparently in an attempt to force her husband to return to Saudi Arabia. Kausars husband, Mohamed Ijaz Ahmad, also a Pakistani national, was employed as office manager for Said Ayas, the business manager of Prince Mohammad bin Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz Al-Saud, son of King Fahd and governor of the Eastern Province. Both Ahmad and Ayas were wanted by Prince Mohammad in connection with a business dispute, and Ayas had been placed under house arrest in June 1997 when he returned to Saudi Arabia at the princes request. After Ahmad went to Pakistan in September to visit an ill parent, he learned from neighbors that his wife and children were detained by General Investigations officers on October 8, 1997, a day before they were to join Ahmad. In March the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan reportedly sought the aid of Pakistans minister of interior in returning Ahmad to Saudi Arabia, and claimed that Kausar remained in Saudi Arabia because she was unwilling to travel without her husband. Ahmad fled Pakistan and applied for asylum in Britain, where he indicated he would testify on Ayas behalf in a London court case brought by the prince. In response to the courts request for clarification of Kausars status, on July 14 the princes lawyers for the first time submitted affidavits claiming that Kausar had been charged with criminal offenses on February 28. They did not explain why the Saudi ambassadors March appeal to Pakistan made no mention of charges, or why Kausar and her children were detained more than four months before charges were filed. The family was allowed to leave Saudi Arabia on July 27, the day before a scheduled court judgment in the legal dispute, on the condition that Kausar return to Saudi Arabia for a September 5 hearing. As of early October Kausar remained in Pakistan, in hiding, after the government of Pakistan banned her from traveling abroad on August 24.
The sentences of British nurses Deborah Parry and Lucille McLauchlan were commuted and they were released on May 20 and allowed to return to the United Kingdom. The two had been convicted of the December 1996 murder of an Australian nurse, apparently solely on the basis of coerced confessions the two later withdrew. McLauchlans additional sentence of 500 lashes was not carried out.
The Shia community in Saudi Arabia, which comprised about 10 percent of the population, faced widespread government discrimination, including unequal access to social services, education, and government jobs, especially those in the national security sector. The government rarely permitted private construction of Shia mosques or community centers, and even books on Shiism were banned.
Shia sources reported that the family of Mohammad al-Hayek, twenty-nine, of Qatif, was notified on June 21 that their son had died in prison and was buried in Riyadh, but the authorities declined to say when or how he died. Al-Hayeks body was not returned to his family, causing speculation that he may have been tortured.
The government owned all domestic radio and television stations, and allowed the domestic privately-owned media no margin to criticize government policies. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the domestic media was subject to close supervision by the minister of information, who approved the hiring of editors and could dismiss them at will. Foreign publications were often censored or banned, and several important foreign-based print and broadcasting media were owned by members of the Saudi royal family or their associates, including United Press International, al-Hayat, a major daily in the Middle East, and MBC, a London-based satellite television network. Private satellite dishes were outlawed, but unofficially tolerated, and local Internet service, scheduled to begin in December 1998 or January 1999, was also subject to extensive censorship.In anticipation of the new service, Council of Ministers Decision 163 required parties using the Internet to refrain from any activities violating the social, cultural, political, media, economic, and religious values of the Kingdom, and prohibited sending or receiving coded information without prior authorization.