Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

The Worst of the Worst 2012 - Saudi Arabia

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 4 July 2012
Cite as Freedom House, The Worst of the Worst 2012 - Saudi Arabia, 4 July 2012, available at: [accessed 24 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 27,897,000
Capital: Riyadh

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7 ↓
Status: Not Free

Ratings Change: Saudi Arabia's civil liberties rating declined from 6 to 7 due to new restrictions on the media and public speech as well as the severe treatment of religious minorities, including crackdowns on Shiite Muslim protests.

Ten-Year Ratings Timeline for Year under Review
(Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status)
Year Under Review2002200320042005200620072008200920102011

2011 Key Developments: In an effort to prevent popular uprisings similar to those that took place elsewhere in the Middle East in 2011, Saudi authorities announced over $130 billion in new social spending. Nevertheless, small protests occurred during the year, including in predominantly Shiite villages in the country's Eastern Province. Saudi women launched a highly visible campaign in May calling for greater freedoms, including the right to drive, and King Abdullah announced that women would be allowed to vote in municipal elections in 2015 and hold seats in the country's Consultative Council. Meanwhile, the king issued a royal decree in April that amended the country's press law to criminalize criticism of religious scholars.

Political Rights: Saudi Arabia is not an electoral democracy. The country's 1992 Basic Law declares that the Koran and the Sunna are the country's constitution. The king appoints the 150-member Consultative Council, which serves in an advisory capacity and has limited powers. The Council of Ministers passes legislation that becomes law once ratified by royal decree. Limited elections for advisory councils at the municipal level were introduced in 2005, and a second round of these elections was held in September 2011. Political parties are forbidden, and organized political opposition exists only outside the country. Corruption is a significant problem. In March 2011, King Abdullah issued a royal decree establishing an anticorruption commission to monitor and observe government departments, though administrative obstacles hindered its success.

Civil Liberties: The government tightly controls the content of domestic media and dominates regional print and satellite television coverage. Government officials have banned journalists and editors who publish articles deemed offensive to the ruling authorities or the country's powerful religious establishment. The regime has blocked access to over 400,000 websites that are considered immoral or politically sensitive. All Saudis are required by law to be Muslims, and the government prohibits the public practice of any religions other than Islam. Religious practices of the Shiite and Sufi Muslim minority sects are restricted. Academic freedom is restricted, and informers monitor classrooms for compliance with curriculum rules, such as a ban on teaching secular philosophy and religions other than Islam. Freedoms of association and assembly are not upheld, and the government frequently detains political activists who stage demonstrations or engage in other civic advocacy. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of Shiite demonstrators took to the streets during 2011, demanding the release of political prisoners and political reform, and expressing support for the uprising in Bahrain. Security forces responded by increasing their presence in Shiite villages in Eastern Province, targeting activists and preventing media from reporting on events in the region. Allegations of torture by police and prison officials are common. Many laws discriminate against women. They may not legally drive cars, their use of public facilities is restricted when men are present, and they cannot travel within or outside of the country without a male relative. In May 2011, Saudi women launched a highly visible campaign demanding the expansion of their rights, including the right to drive. Daughters generally receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and the court testimony of one man is equal to that of two women. However, education and economic rights for Saudi women have improved somewhat, and now more than half of the country's university students are female.

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