State and societal intolerance of religious minorities continues to be standard practice in Saudi Arabia, although the government introduced some steps in 2007 to improve the situation. Saudi Arabia has no legal guarantees for freedom of religion. Beyond non-Muslims, Muslims who do not share ultra-conservative interpretations of Sunni Islam continue to face harassment, arrest and torture at the hands of the country's mutawwa'in religious police for practising their faith. In the past, this has particularly led to tension in concentrated areas of Shia and Isma'ili Muslim practice, especially in Eastern and Najran provinces, respectively. Shia mosques are required to issue the Sunni call to prayers. According the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), extremist schoolteachers have berated Shia children about their alleged heresy and, in January 2007, a prominent cleric of the government's council of religious elders called for the expulsion of all Shia from Muslim countries.
Like all women, minority women are subjected to extreme Sunni interpretations of Islamic law (Sharia). This includes a strict conservative dress code, a ban on driving and the prohibition of 'illegal mingling' between unmarried or unrelated men and women. In October 2006, a Saudi court convicted a Shia woman who had been gang raped because she had been in a car with an unrelated male at the time they were both attacked and sexually assaulted. In November 2007 the court banished the female victim's lawyer from the courtroom and doubled her sentence, to 200 lashes and six months in prison, for 'her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media'.
There have been recent incipient reforms to Saudi Arabia's religious regime. In December 2006, the government established a new Human Rights Council (HRC). According to USCIRF, whilst women are entirely excluded, the new 24-member body does include one Shia and one Isma'ili Muslim. It has a mandate to educate government institutions, including the mutawwa'in, about human rights and, by decree of the king, government ministries are required to reply to all HRC complaints within three weeks. Meanwhile, in Eastern province, the government eased restrictions on the public celebration of Shia holidays, and in March 2007 the government announced that schoolteachers espousing extremist views would lose their jobs.
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