Saudi inquisition? Human rights watchdog slams govt torture

Saudi inquisition? Human rights watchdog slams govt torture
Saudi Arabia has failed not only to improve human rights in the country, but ratcheted up repression while courts still apply death sentences based on “confessions” of “witchcraft” extracted under torture, said Amnesty International.

In a report titled “Saudi Arabia: Unfulfilled Promises” submitted to the United Nations,  Amnesty said the Saudi Arabian authorities have failed to implement any of the main recommendations they accepted under the last review by the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which took place in 2009.

“Not only have the authorities failed to act, but they have ratcheted up the repression,” said Philip Luther, Director of Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International ahead of a UNHRC meeting in Geneva on Monday.

Amnesty International has recorded a sharp increase in executions since 2011. There is “an ongoing crackdown” with “executions based on confessions extracted under torture” according to the human rights watchdog. Saudi Arabia remains one of the top five executioners in the world, death penalty is still applied to a wide range of non-lethal crimes such as adultery, armed robbery, apostasy, drug smuggling, kidnapping, rape, “witchcraft” and “sorcery.”  

A detainee arrested in 2011 told the human rights watchdog how he was tortured for ten days until he agreed to “confess.”

Since 2009, appeals by the growing human rights movement in the country have been met with harsh measures such as arbitrary arrests, detention without charge or trial, unfair trials and travel bans, Amnesty stated. 

Demonstrations are severely repressed, while “inhuman or degrading punishment” that “in some cases result in killings,” is used during arrest and in detention centers and prisons, Amnesty said. Reuters / Stringer

“Women demonstrators have increasingly found themselves exposed to such treatment as they have taken to the streets to protest the incommunicado detention of male family members.”

Amnesty urged the Saudi authorities to release two prominent rights activists handed heavy jail terms in March. Dr Abdullah bin Hamid bin Ali al-Hamid, 66, and Mohammad bin Fahad bin Muflih al-Qahtani, 47, the founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Organization (ACPRA) were sentenced to 10 and 11 years imprisonment respectively. 

“These men are prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally. Their peaceful activism against human rights violations deserves praise not punishment. The only guilty party here is the government,” said Luther. 

Meanwhile, other co-founders of ACPRA, the most prominent independent human rights organization in the country, were also imprisoned for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. The court also ordered the disbanding of the organization.

Amnesty documented other violations it said were committed by Saudi authorities such as discrimination against women. 

“Women are required to obtain the permission of a male guardian before getting married, travelling, undergoing certain surgical interventions, and undertaking paid employment or enrolling in higher education. Women are still not allowed to drive,” the report said.

An increasing number of women are campaigning to abolish the prohibition against driving. In one of the latest online campaigns, activists are urging women drive on public streets on October 26, even though previous similar actions drew reprisals. Recently a Saudi sheik claimed that medical studies show driving effects a woman’s ovaries as it forces the pelvis upward.

Saudi Arabia's religious police have lifted a ban on women riding bicycles and motorbikes, but only in recreational areas and while dressed in full Islamic veil and accompanied by a male relative (AFP Photo / Fayez Nureldine)

The Sunni government also discriminates against minority groups, including Shiites concentrated in the Eastern Province, who occasionally protest to demand more rights, the group said. 

“A large number of those arrested and detained for various lengths of time have not been charged. Many of them seem to have been arrested solely for participating in peaceful protests, taking part in religious celebrations, or practicing their religious rituals during religious occasions.”

Human rights violations are driving people on to the streets despite the fear of arrest, according to activist Hala Al-Dosari, who spoke to RT in August.

“We have issues related to political and civil rights, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. These are the main issues that cause a lot of people to be at risk for just voicing their opinions or trying to form associations, demonstrate or protest, which is banned by the government.” 

Rights activists claim that there are around 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. In the government crackdown, the kingdom has executed 69 people this year, according to AFP estimates.