Head of state and government: King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 28.1 million
Life expectancy: 73.9 years
Under-5 mortality: 21 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 86.1 per cent

Planned protests inspired by events elsewhere in the region were ruthlessly suppressed and hundreds of people who protested or dared to call for reform were arrested; some were prosecuted on security-related and political charges. Thousands of people suspected of security-related offences remained in prison. The justice system and information about detainees, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy, although it was clear that torture and grossly unfair trials continued. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls faced severe discrimination in law and practice, as well as violence; increased campaigning for women's rights resulted in arrests as well as some small improvements. Foreign migrant workers continued to be exploited and abused by their employers, generally with impunity. At least 82 prisoners were executed, a sharp rise over the previous two years.


The government responded to planned pro-reform protests in early 2011 by extending additional benefits to citizens reported to be worth around US$127bn. However, sporadic protests continued, particularly by Shi'a Muslims in Eastern Province who alleged discrimination and called for the release of political prisoners. On 5 March, the Interior Ministry reaffirmed the total ban on public demonstrations, and a large mobilization by security forces combined with threats forestalled a planned "Day of Rage" by advocates of reform called on 11 March. Even so, hundreds of people were arrested in connection with protests in 2011, mainly members of the Shi'a Muslim minority, pro-reform activists and women's rights activists. Many were released without charge.

On 15 March, the government sent 1,200 Saudi Arabian troops in tanks and other armoured vehicles across the causeway to Bahrain to help crush pro-reform protests there, apparently at the invitation of Bahrain's ruling family.

Counter-terror and security

A new draft anti-terror law was discussed in the Shura council, the body that advises the King, but it had not been enacted by the end of the year. The version of the draft law leaked to Amnesty International proposed to add sweeping new powers to those already possessed by the Interior Ministry and mandate jail sentences for anyone deemed to have criticized the King or expressed opposition to the government. It would allow for suspects to be detained without charge or trial potentially indefinitely, while the trials and appeals of those prosecuted could constitute unfair trials, even though some offences could incur the death penalty. The draft would also empower the Interior Minister to order phone tapping and house searches without judicial authorization. The overly broad definition of terrorism in the draft raised concern that it could be used to penalize or suppress legitimate expression of dissent.

Thousands of security suspects continued to be held, many for long periods without charge despite the six-month legal limit on detention without trial. Among them were government opponents who had been detained for months or years without trial. Many security detainees had been held for years without being tried and convicted or had been convicted of acts that are not recognized internationally as constituting a crime.

Security suspects are generally held incommunicado after arrest and while under interrogation, often for months, before they are permitted family visits. Many are tortured or otherwise ill-treated. They are usually held until the authorities decide they are not a security threat or they undertake not to engage in opposition activities. Some are released but then quickly re-arrested; many are detained without charge or trial.

It remained impossible independently to determine the number of people imprisoned on security grounds or for suspected involvement in terrorism; however, some indication of the scale was evident from government statements in recent years. In February, the Justice Minister announced that the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh had issued preliminary verdicts in 442 cases, involving 765 security suspects. In April, the Interior Ministry said that 5,831 security detainees had been released in recent years, including 184 since the start of 2011; that 5,080 security detainees had been questioned and referred for trial while 616 were still being questioned; that 1,931 others had been questioned and could be referred to the Specialized Criminal Court; and that 1,612 people had been convicted of "terrorism offences". In addition, 486 people convicted of security-related offences were said by the Interior Ministry to have been compensated for being detained beyond the expiry of their sentence.

Freedom of expression

The Press and Publications Law was extended to cover web publishing in January and further amended in April, tightening restrictions on freedom of expression. Human rights defenders, peaceful advocates of political change, members of religious minorities and others who called for reforms were among those detained without charge or trial or convicted after unfair trials in which they had no legal representation.

  • Abdul Aziz al-Wuhaibi and six other men were arrested on 16 February, a week after they and others asked for the Islamic Umma Party to be granted legal recognition; it would have become Saudi Arabia's first political party. They were held virtually incommunicado at al-Ha'ir prison and pressed to renounce their political activities; five were later released but Abdul Aziz al-Wuhaibi, who refused to make such an undertaking, was charged and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in September after a grossly unfair trial. Among other charges, he was accused of "disobeying the ruler" of Saudi Arabia.

  • Sheikh Tawfiq Jaber Ibrahim al-Amer, a Shi'a cleric, was arrested in February after he called for political reforms in a sermon. He was held incommunicado for a week, then released. He was re-arrested on 3 August and charged with "inciting public opinion" after persisting in his call for reform.

  • Prisoner of conscience Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady, a businessman and co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), a human rights NGO, was arrested the day after attending a protest outside the Interior Ministry in Riyadh on 20 March. He was said to have been charged in connection with the formation of ACPRA, harming the reputation of the state and possessing banned books. He was on trial but his defence lawyers had not been permitted access to him or the trial.

  • Fadhel Maki al-Manasif, a human rights activist and advocate of the rights of the Shi'a Muslim minority, was arrested on 1 May and detained incommunicado until 22 August, when he was released. He was re-arrested on 2 October after he intervened as police arrested two elderly men. He was allowed to telephone his family on 10 October but was subsequently not permitted to see or call his family or lawyer, arousing fears that he could be subject to torture.

  • In November, 16 men, including nine prominent reformists who had tried to set up a human rights association, were given sentences ranging from five to 30 years in prison by the Specialized Criminal Court, which was set up to deal with terrorism-related cases, following a grossly unfair trial. They were convicted of charges that included forming a secret organization, attempting to seize power, incitement against the King, financing terrorism, and money laundering. Several of them had already been detained for three and a half years without charge and interrogated without the presence of their lawyers. Many had been held in prolonged solitary confinement. Lawyers and families were denied details of the charges against the men for months and were denied access to many of the court proceedings, which reportedly began in May.

  • Firas Buqna and his colleagues Hussam al-Darwish and Khaled al-Rashid were arrested on 16 October in connection with publishing an episode of their online show, "We Are Being Tricked", concerning the incidence of poverty in Riyadh. They were released two weeks later.

Repression of dissent

The authorities suppressed attempts to organize protests and those who sought to protest were arrested and faced other forms of repression.

  • Muhammad al-Wad'ani, a teacher, was arrested at a pro-reform rally in Riyadh on 4 March. He was believed to be still held incommunicado, probably in al-Ha'ir prison, at the end of the year.

  • Khaled al-Johani, the only person to turn up to a planned "Day of Rage" protest in Riyadh on 11 March, was arrested. He remained held at the end of the year, charged with supporting a protest and communicating with foreign media. For the first two months he was held incommunicado in solitary confinement in 'Ulaysha prison; he may have been tortured. He was then transferred to al-Ha'ir prison in Riyadh, where he was allowed access to his family.

  • Rima bint Abdul Rahman al-Jareesh, a member of ACPRA, and Sharifa al-Saqa'abi were arrested along with more than a dozen others while protesting outside the Interior Ministry on 3 July. They were among a group of almost 50 men, women and children calling for the fair trial or release of male relatives held in detention without charge or trial – some had been held for up to 10 years. Those arrested were released after signing pledges not to protest again, but Rima bint Abdul Rahman al-Jareesh and Sharifa al-Saqa'abi were held for two days at a prison in Qasim, north of Riyadh. They had supported earlier petitions calling for reform.

Hundreds of Shi'a Muslims were arrested following protests in Eastern Province. Most were released but some remained in detention.

  • Hussain al-Yousef and Hussain al-'Alq, regular contributors to a Shi'a website which mostly discusses problems faced by members of Saudi Arabia's Shi'a minority, were among 24 people detained on 3 and 4 March following protests in the city of al-Qatif against the prolonged detention of Shi'a prisoners. Police kicked and beat at least three of the protesters. They were released uncharged on 8 March after they signed pledges not to protest again. Hussain al-Yousef was re-arrested on 27 March and held until 18 July, when he was said to be suffering from severe back pain and barely able to move.

Women's rights

Women continued to face severe discrimination both in law and in practice. They must obtain the permission of a male guardian before they can travel, take paid work, engage in higher education or marry, and their evidence carries less weight in a court of law than that of men. Domestic violence against women was believed to remain rife.

Women joined the calls for reform and organized in support of women's rights. One group launched an online campaign "Women2Drive" and urged Saudi Arabian women possessing international driving licences to start driving vehicles on Saudi Arabian roads from 17 June. Scores of women reportedly did so; some were arrested and made to sign pledges to desist. At least two were facing trial. The campaign subsequently became part of a new, wider campaign for women's rights entitled "My right, my dignity".

In September, the King announced that from 2015 women will have the right to vote and run in municipal elections, the country's only public poll, and to be appointed to the Shura council.

  • Manal al-Sharif, a computer security consultant, was arrested on 22 May, the day after police stopped her while she was driving, accompanied by her brother, in al-Khobar city. She had also uploaded a video of herself driving on the "Women2Drive" website on 19 May. She was released 10 days later.

  • On 27 September, Shaimaa Jastaniyah was sentenced to 10 lashes in Jeddah after she drove a car. The sentence was confirmed by the court that imposed it, and was being appealed at the end of the year.

Migrants' rights

Migrant workers continued to face exploitation and abuse by private and state employers, and victims had little or no redress. Typical abuses included long working hours, non-payment of salaries and violence, particularly against women domestic workers. Women domestic workers who fled abusive sponsors often ended up facing worse conditions in the illegal labour market.

  • In a rare case, the female employer of Sumiati binti Salan Mustapa, an Indonesian domestic worker who required hospital treatment in 2010 after allegedly being cut, burned and beaten by her employer, was sentenced four months' imprisonment in October, but then released on account of time served in detention.

Torture and other ill-treatment

New reports were received of torture and other ill-treatment, a pattern of abuse that was believed to remain common with interrogators seeking to extract "confessions" from suspects.

  • A Shi'a detainee, whose identity is being withheld because of fears for his safety, told Amnesty International that he was tortured for 10 days until he agreed to sign a "confession" by being made to stand for prolonged periods with his arms raised; beaten with an electric cable; struck in the face, back and stomach; and threatened that he would be raped by other prisoners.

Cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments

Flogging was routinely imposed as a sentence by the courts and carried out as the main or as an additional punishment. More than 100 men and women were sentenced to flogging.

  • In December, the Supreme Court upheld the sentences of six Bedouin men to "cross amputation" of their right hands and left feet for "highway robbery". All six were tried before a court in Riyadh in March 2011 with no legal assistance or representation. A court of appeal was reported to have upheld the verdict in October.

  • In Riyadh on 23 December, Abdul Samad Ismail Abdullah Husawy, a Nigerian man, had his right hand amputated for theft.

Death penalty

The recorded number of executions rose sharply, with at least 82 people executed, over triple the number recorded in 2010. Those executed included at least five women and at least 28 foreign nationals. At least 250 prisoners remained under sentence of death, including some sentenced for offences not involving violence, such as apostasy and sorcery. Many were foreign nationals, sentenced for drug-related offences after grossly unfair trials.

  • Ruwayti Beth Sabutti Sarona, an Indonesian woman, was reported to have been beheaded on 18 June after being convicted of the murder of her employer. Neither her family nor the Indonesian government were said to have been notified in advance of her execution.

  • Two Saudi Arabian brothers, Muhammad Jaber Shahbah al-Ja'id and Sa'ud Jaber Shahbah al-Ja'id, were executed on 30 July. They were sentenced to death in 1998 for murder. They did not have access to a lawyer at the original trial and Sa'ud Jaber Shahbah al-Ja'id was reported to have confessed under duress when the authorities arrested his elderly father to put pressure on him. Their families were reportedly not notified of the impending executions.

  • Abdul Hamid bin Hussain bin Moustafa al-Fakki, a Sudanese man, was beheaded in Medina on 19 September. He had been arrested in 2005 then charged and convicted of sorcery after he allegedly agreed to cast a spell at the behest of a man working for the religious police. He is alleged to have been beaten in detention and forced to "confess" to sorcery. His family were reportedly not notified in advance of his execution and were not allowed to repatriate his body to Sudan.

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