Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia: The ill-treatment of detained human rights defenders in the Kingdom


According to reliable reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), widespread ill-treatment of human rights defenders (HRDs) at the hand of state authorities is continuing.

HRDs are reportedly being detained together with convicted criminals in Beriman, Dhahban, Sha'ar, Al-Tarfiyah, Ulaysha and Al-Hayer prisons.  The prisons are overcrowded and imprisoned HRDs complain of limited sleeping and living space, poor conditions of food, inadequate medical care, and other concerns of sanitation in the prison.

In Beriman prison for example, there are around 500 prisoners including some HRDs who are taking turns to sleep on the ground anywhere in the cells and corridors. There are only six working bathrooms out of twelve, however, all twelve are used out of necessity, despite the poor hygienic conditions. The prison food is usually contaminated and so prisoners are forced to buy food at extortionate prices through a network of conspiring prison officials. Medical care is, for the most part, unavailable and there is a report that a Sudanese prisoner died after his calls for help went unanswered. The only medications provided by the prison’s clinic are for pain and the treatment of tuberculosis. Infectious diseases are epidemic amongst prisoners and proper medical attention is still denied to those suffering or at risk of such diseases. There are some prisoners with severe mental and psychiatric conditions who are being detained, instead of being treated in specialized institutions. Frequently, HRDs report that the release of prisoners is delayed too long after the expiration of their sentences due to lack of proper or timely administrative action.

The reports of the situations in the other prisons are similar. Detained HRDs are denied basic rights of due process by the imposition of several obstacles. They are not allowed to meet their lawyers regularly or receive information about the expected dates of trials or the proceedings of their cases. Interrogations are lengthy and often take place at odd times of the day. In some cases, HRDs have been left for months between interrogations without any action being taken against them. Some HRDs report being interrogated by unidentified officers and then asked to sign papers without being allowed to read through them. Furthermore, they are not allowed to meet directly with members of their extended families or friends. Although meetings with immediate family members are allowed, these encounters take place through a glass wall from the side of the visitor and an iron grid from the side of the prisoner, with small holes in the glass wall for speaking.

In court, many HRDs are not given adequate information of their cases and Judges often deny them appropriate time to discuss the charges and to prepare their case.   Trials are not announced or open to the public in general.  In most cases there is no written penal code to define the offences brought against the HRDs and they are usually charged as political opponents and given lengthy sentences with no respect for international standards or criteria of due process.

In light of the conditions outlined above, the GCHR believes that the situation of HRDs in Saudi Arabia contradicts the provisions of the United Nations “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners", which state clearly  in article (63) (1) that " The fulfillment of these principles requires individualization of treatment and for this purpose a flexible system of classifying prisoners in groups; " where the objective is explained in accordance with Article (67 / a) which states: "To separate from others those prisoners who, by reason of their criminal records or bad characters, are likely to exercise a bad influence."

The GCHR calls on the Saudi authorities: 

  1. To respect their international commitments and drop all legal prosecution against HRDs;
  2. To allow all HRDs to exercise their rights and to continue their peaceful activism without fear or prosecution or imprisonment;
  3. To take the required action to improve the situation of correctional facilities to match the recognized international standards which do not jeopardize the wellbeing and safety of prisoners.

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present declaration.