Human rights in Saudi Arabia

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Human rights in Saudi Arabia are intended to be based on Islamic religious laws under rule of the Saudi royal family.[1] The government of Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi legal system, has been criticized for its treatment of religious and political minorities, homosexuals, apostates, and women. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ratified the International Convention against Torture in October 1997 according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Human rights of Saudi Arabia are specified in article 26 of the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia. Recently created human rights organisations include Human Rights First Society (2002),[2] Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia (2007),[3] Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (2009)[4][5] and the government-associated National Society for Human Rights (2004).[6][7] In 2008, the Shura Council ratified the Arab Charter on Human Rights.[8] In 2011, the Specialized Criminal Court was used to charge and sentence human rights activists.[9][10]

At the U.N. Third Millennium Summit in New York City, The King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz defended Saudi Arabia's position on human rights, saying "It is absurd to impose on an individual or a society rights that are alien to its beliefs or principles."[11]

Corporal and capital punishment; right to representation[edit]

Saudi Arabia is one of approximately thirty countries in the world with judicial corporal punishment. In Saudi Arabia's case this includes amputations of hands and feet for robbery, and flogging for lesser crimes such as "sexual deviance" and drunkenness. In the 2000s, it was reported that women were sentenced to lashes for adultery; the women were actually victims of rape, but because they could not prove who the perpetrators were, they were deemed guilty of committing adultery.[12] The number of lashes is not clearly prescribed by law and is varied according to the discretion of judges, and ranges from dozens of lashes to several hundreds, usually applied over a period of weeks or months. In 2004, the United Nations Committee Against Torture criticized Saudi Arabia over the amputations and floggings it carries out under Sharia. The Saudi delegation responded defending "legal traditions" held since the inception of Islam 1,400 years ago and rejected interference in its legal system.

Saudi Arabia also engages in capital punishment, including public executions by beheading.[13] The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences[14] including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy,[15] adultery,[16] witchcraft and sorcery[17] and can be carried out by beheading with a sword,[15] stoning or firing squad,[16] followed by crucifixion.[17] In 2005 there were 191 executions, in 2006 there were 38, in 2007 there were 153, and in 2008 there were 102.[18]

A spokesman for the National Society for Human Rights, an organisation which is funded by the Saudi Government, said that numbers of executions are rising because crime rates are rising, that prisoners are treated humanely, and that the beheadings deter crime, saying, "Allah, our creator, knows best what's good for His people...Should we just think of and preserve the rights of the murderer and not think of the rights of others?"[19]

Saudi Arabian police and immigration authorities routinely abuse people who are stopped or detained, especially workers from the Third World.[20] Earlier in November 2013, the authorities received criticism for the way they have planned and handled the crackdown on illegal workers. Saudi authorities - in some cases with the help of citizens - rounded up many of illegal workers and physically abused them. Thousands of these people have already been deported back to their countries of origin by the authorities and this has resulted in many basic services suffering from a lack of workers, as many Saudi citizens are not keen on working.[21][22]

Women's rights[edit]

Saudi women face discrimination in many aspects of their lives, such as the justice system. Although they make up 70% of those enrolled in universities, for social reasons, women make up 5% of the workforce in Saudi Arabia,[23] the lowest proportion in the world. The treatment of women has been referred to as "sex segregation"[24][25] and "gender apartheid".[26][27] Implementation of a government resolution supporting expanded employment opportunities for women met resistance from within the labor ministry,[28] from the religious police,[29] and from the male citizenry.[30]

In many parts of Saudi Arabia, it is believed that a woman's place is in the home caring for her husband and family, yet there are some successful ladies and some even run the house instead of the husband himself. Moreover, there is also some type of segregation inside their own homes, such as different entrances for men and women.[31]

Women's rights are at the heart of calls for reform in Saudi Arabia - calls that are challenging the kingdom's political status quo.[31] Local and international women's groups are also pushing governments to respond, taking advantage of the fact that some rulers are eager to project a more progressive image to the West.

The presence of powerful businesswomen—still a rare sight—in some of these groups helps get them heard.[32] Prior to 2008, women were not allowed to enter hotels and furnished apartments without a chaperon or mahram. With a 2008 Royal Decree, however, the only requirement for a woman to be allowed to enter hotels is a national ID card, and the hotel must inform the nearest police station of their room reservation and length of stay; however, this happens with everybody staying in the hotel.[33] In April 2010, a new, optional ID card for women was issued which allows them to travel in countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The cards include GPS tracking, fingerprints and features that make them difficult to forge. Women do not need male permission to apply for the card, but do need it to travel abroad.[34] Proponents argue that new female identity cards enable a woman to carry out her activities with ease, and prevent forgeries committed in the name of women.

Women first joined the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia in 2013, occupying thirty seats.[35] Furthermore, that year three women were named as deputy chairpersons of three committees. Dr. Thurayya Obeid was named Deputy Chairwoman of the Human Rights and Petitions Committee, Dr. Zainab Abu Talib, Deputy Chairwoman of the Information and Cultural Committee, and Dr. Lubna Al-Ansari, Deputy Chairwoman of the Health Affairs and Environment Committee.[35]

In 2013 the Directorate General of Passports allowed Saudi women married to foreigners to sponsor their children, so that the children can have residency permits (iqamas) with their mothers named as the sponsors, and have the right to work in the private sector in Saudi Arabia while on the sponsorship of their mothers, and the mother can also bring her children who are living abroad back to Saudi Arabia if they have no criminal records. Foreign men married to Saudi women were also granted the right to work in the private sector in Saudi Arabia while on the sponsorship of their wives on condition that the title on their iqamas should be written as "husband of a Saudi wife" and that they should have valid passports enabling them to return to their homes at any time.[36]

Also in 2013, Saudi Arabia registered its first female trainee lawyer, Arwa al-Hujaili.[37]

According to the CIA world factbook, 82.2% of females are literate, in comparison to 90.8% literacy rates in males.[38]

Driving[edit]

Saudi Arabia is currently the only country in the world where women are forbidden to drive motor vehicles.[39] The motoring ban is not in statute law, but is an "informal" religious fatwa imposed by conservative Muslim clerics[40] in order to maintain the country's tradition of gender segregation. In 1990, when 47 Saudi women drove cars through the streets of Riyadh in protest against the ban, protestors were punished. "All the drivers, and their husbands, were barred from foreign travel for a year. Those women who had government jobs were fired. And from hundreds of mosque pulpits, they were denounced by name as immoral women out to destroy Saudi society."[41]

Women complain that "we can't move around without a male."[40] Many cannot afford chauffeurs, and the few buses that do operate in cities and towns across the Kingdom do so randomly.[39] In 2013, women started a campaign to defy the ban by driving on October 26, 2013. However on October 23, in a "rare and explicit restating of the ban", Interior Ministry Spokesman General Mansur al-Turki warned, "It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate support."[42]

Women are allowed to fly aircraft, though they must be chauffeured to the airport.[43]

Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi living in the US, has created a video which makes a reference to the Government's rules which prevent women from driving. The video was released the same day many women in Saudi Arabia staged a nationwide protest against the Government.[44]

Freedom of religion and belief[edit]

A road sign for a bypass used to restrict non-Muslims from Mecca

Saudi Arabian law does not recognize religious freedom, and the public practice of non-Muslim religions is actively prohibited.[45] No law specifically requires citizens to be Muslims, but article 12.4 of the Naturalization Law requires that applicants attest to their religious affiliation, and article 14.1 requires that applicants to get a certificate endorsed by their local cleric.[46] The Government has declared the Quran and the Sunna (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad to be the country’s constitution. Neither the Government nor society in general accepts the concepts of separation of religion and state, and such separation does not exist. The legal system is based on Shari'a (Islamic law), with Shari'a courts basing their judgments largely on a code derived from the Quran and the Sunna. According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia "systematically discriminates against its Muslim religious minorities, in particular Shia and Ismailis",[47] but the Government permits Shi'a Muslims to use their own legal tradition to adjudicate noncriminal cases within their community.[46]

Christianity[edit]

Under Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican officials have raised the issue of Christians being forbidden from worshipping openly in Saudi Arabia.[48] As an Islamic State, Saudi Arabia gives preferential treatment for Muslims. During Ramadan, eating, drinking, or smoking in public during daylight hours is not allowed.[49] Foreign schools are often required to teach a yearly introductory segment on Islam. Saudi religious police have detained Shi'ite pilgrims participating in the Hajj, allegedly calling them "infidels in Mecca".[50] The restrictions on the Shi'a branch of Islam in the Kingdom along with the banning of displaying Jewish, Hindu and Christian symbols have been referred to as apartheid.[51]

The Saudi government has gone further than stopping Christians from worshipping in publicly designated buildings to even raid private prayer meetings among Christian believers in their own homes. On December 15, 2011, Saudi security forces arrested 35 Ethiopian Christians in Jeddah who were praying in a home, beating them and threatening them with death. When the Ethiopian workers' employers asked security forces for what reason they were arrested, they said "for practising Christianity". Later, under mounting international pressure, this charge was changed to "mixing with the opposite sex". The freedom of religion, including the freedom of assembling together to worship and pray, is a basic right recognised under international human rights law. [52]

In December 2012, Saudi religious police detained more than 41 individuals after storming a house in the Saudi Arabian province of al-Jouf. They were accused of “plotting to celebrate Christmas,” according to a December 26 statement released by the police branch.[53]

"Magic and sorcery"[edit]

According to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch in 2009, "Saudi judges have harshly punished confessed `witches` for what at worst appears to be fraud, but may well be harmless acts."[54] In 2009 the Saudi "religious police" established a special "Anti-Witchcraft Unit" to educate the public, investigate and combat witchcraft.[55]

Among the people executed in Saudi for magic and sorcery (and often other charges) are Egyptian pharmacist Mustafa Ibrahim (beheaded in 2007 in Riyadh), Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri, (found in possession of talismans, and executed in Najran province in June 2012), Amina bin Salem Nasser,[56] (executed in December 2011 in Jawf), and Abdul Hamid Bin Hussain Bin Moustafa al-Fakki (a Sudanese migrant worker executed in a car park in Medina on September 20, 2011).[57][58][59] Ali Hussain Sibat, a Lebanese host of a popular fortune-telling TV program was arrested while in Saudi in May 2008 on Umrah and sentenced to death but finally released sometime in 2011 or 2012.[60]

Many convicted of magic receive lesser punishments of lashes and/or prison. In 2011, the "Anti-Witchcraft Unit" processed over 586 cases of magical crime.[61] In 2012 215 witchcraft arrests were made.[62] The majority of these offenders are foreign domestic workers from Africa and Indonesia.[61] Foreign domestic workers who bring unfamiliar traditional religious or folk customs are a disproportionately affected by the anti-witchcraft campaign according to Human Rights Watch researchers Adam Coogle and Cristoph Wilcke. Saudis assume folk practices are "some kind of sorcery or witchcraft"[55][61] and widespread belief in witchcraft means in can be invoked as a defense in Sharia courts against workers complaining of mistreatment by Saudi employers.[63] Humans Rights Watch believes that the conviction of a Syrian national, `Abd al-Karim Mara'I al-Naqshabandi -- executed in 1996 for undertaking `the practice of works of magic and spells and possession of a collection of polytheistic and superstitious books` -- was actually resulted from a dispute with his employer Prince Salman bin Sa'ud bin `Abd al`Aziz, a nephew of King Fahd. [64][65]

LGBT rights[edit]

LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia are unrecognized. Homosexuality is frequently a taboo subject in Saudi Arabian society and is punished with fines, torture, chemical castration, whippings, beatings, up to life in prison, vigilante executions, and/or capital punishment for the first offense. Death is guaranteed on the second offense. Transgenderism, cross dressing, intersexism, and male feminism and female masculinism of any kind is associated with homosexuality and will have the same punishment.

HIV/AIDS[edit]

By law, all Saudi citizens who are infected with HIV or AIDS are entitled to free medical care, protection of their privacy and employment opportunities. However, most hospitals will not treat patients who are infected, and many schools and hospitals are reluctant to distribute government information about the disease because of the strong taboos and stigma that are attached to how the virus can be spread.[66]

Until the late 1990s, information on HIV/AIDS was not widely available to the public, but this has started to change. In the late 1990s, the government started to recognize World AIDS Day and allowed information about the disease to be published in newspapers.[citation needed] The number of people living in the kingdom who were infected was a closely guarded secret. However, in 2003 the government announced the number of known cases of HIV/AIDS in the country to be 6,700, and over 10,000 in June 2008.[67]

Any foreigner found to be infected with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS (or, indeed, any other serious medical condition), is deported to their country of origin. Condoms are available in hospitals and pharmacies, and in some supermarkets as well.

Freedom of press and communication[edit]

Speech, the press and other forms of communicative media, including television and radio broadcasting and Internet reception, are actively censored by the government to prevent political dissent and anything deemed, by the government, to be offensive to the Arab culture or Islamic morality.[68]

In 2008, a prominent Saudi blogger and reformist Fouad al-Farhan was jailed for posting comments online that were critical of Saudi business, religious and media figures, signifying a move by the government to step up its censorship polices of the Internet within its borders.[69] He was released on April 26, 2008.[70]

Online social media has increasingly come under government scrutiny for dealing with the "forbidden" topics. In 2010 a Saudi man was fined and given jail time for his sexually suggestive YouTube video production. That same year another man was also jailed and ordered to pay a fine for boasting about his sex life on television.[71]

D+Z, a magazine focused on development, reports that hundreds were arrested in order to limit freedom of expression. Many of these individuals were held without trial and in secret. The torture of these prisoners was also found to be prevalent.[72]

On December 17, 2012, blogger Raif Badawi was charged with apostasy, which carries the death penalty. Badawi is the editor and of co-founder of Free Saudi Liberals, a website for religious discussion.[73][74] The organization Human Rights Watch has called for charges against him to be dropped.[75] He has been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for "insulting Islam." After each session of 150 lashes he will be hospitalized.[74]

Saudi novelist and political analyst Turki al-Hamad was arrested December 24, 2012 after a series of tweets on religion and other topics. The arrest was ordered by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, however the charges against al-Hamad were not announced.[76] He has since been freed.[77]

Political freedom[edit]

The 1990s marked a slow period of political liberalization in the kingdom as the government created a written constitution, and the advisory Consultative Council, the latter being an appointed delegation of Saudi scholars and professionals that are allowed to advise the king. Some political dissidents were released from prison, after agreeing to disband their political parties. In 2005, adult male citizens were allowed to vote for some municipal seats, although plans for future elections, which may include adult women, have been put on hold indefinitely.

Political parties are banned, but some political dissidents were freed in the 1990s on the condition that they disband their political parties. Today, only the Green Party of Saudi Arabia remains, although it is an illegal organization. Trade unions are also banned, but the government has granted permission for Saudi citizens to form some private societies, which are allowed to do some humanitarian work within the kingdom.

Public demonstrations or any public act of dissent are forbidden. In April 2011, during the 2011–2012 Saudi Arabian protests, the kingdom made it a crime to publish any criticism harming the reputation of government or religious leaders, or which harms the interests of the state.[78]

Political prisoners in Saudi Arabia[edit]

Dissidents have been detained as political prisoners in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.[79] Protests and sit-ins calling for political prisoners to be released took place during the 2011–2012 Saudi Arabian protests in many cities throughout Saudi Arabia,[80][81][82][83][84] with security forces firing live bullets in the air on 19 August 2012 at a protest at al-Ha'ir Prison.[85] As of 2012, recent estimates of the number of political prisoners in Mabahith prisons range from an estimate of zero by the Ministry of Interior[81][86] to 30,000 by the UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission[79] and the BBC.[87]

Human rights organizations[edit]

The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Arabian Peninsula is a Saudi Arabian human rights organization based in Beirut since 1992.[88][89]

The Human Rights First Society applied unsuccessfully for a governmental licence in 2002, but was allowed to function informally.[2] In 2004, the National Society for Human Rights, associated with the Saudi government, was created.[6][7] The Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia was created in 2007 and is also unlicensed.[3]

The Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) was created in 2009.[90] One of its co-founders, Mohammed Saleh al-Bejadi, was arbitrarily arrested by Mabahith, the internal security agency, on 21 March 2011, during the 2011 Saudi Arabian protests.[4][5] Al-Bejadi was charged in the Specialized Criminal Court in August 2011 for "insurrection against the ruler, instigating demonstrations, and speaking with foreign [media] channels."[9] Another co-founder, Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, was charged for his human rights activities in June 2012.[91][92]

Sixteen people who tried to create a human rights organisation in 2007 were arrested in February 2007, charged in August 2010, and convicted on 22 November 2011 of "forming a secret [organization], attempting to seize power, incitement against the King, financing terrorism, and money laundering" and sentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court to 5–30 years' imprisonment, to be followed by travel bans.[10] They appealed on 22 January 2012.[93]

The Society for Development and Change was created in September 2011[94] and campaigns for equal human rights for Shia in Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia.[95] The organisation calls for a constitution and elected legislature for Eastern Province.[96]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Laube, Lydia (2003). Behind the Veil: A Nurse's Arabian Nightmare. Eye Books. ISBN 1-903070-19-8. OCLC 51994153. 
  • Mitchell, Sandy Hollingsworth, Mark (2006). Saudi Babylon: Torture, Corruption and Cover-up Inside the House of Saud. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1-84596-185-4. OCLC 225546299. 
  • Sasson, Jean (2001). Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia. Windsor-Brooke Books. ISBN 0-9676737-4-7. OCLC 46766141. 
  • Jones, John Paul. If Olaya Street Could Talk: Saudi Arabia- The Heartland of Oil and Islam. The Taza Press (2007) ISBN 0-9790436-0-3. 

External links[edit]