The Commission's March 2001 visit to Saudi Arabia confirmed the State Department's conclusion in its most recent religious freedom report that freedom of religion "does not exist" in that country. The ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom by the Saudi government include torture and cruel and degrading treatment or punishment imposed by both judicial and administrative authorities; prolonged detention without charges, and often incommunicado; and blatant denials of the right to liberty and security of the person, including coercive measures aimed at women and the wide jurisdiction of the religious police (mutawaa), whose powers are vaguely defined and exercised in ways that violate the religious freedom of others. The Commission also is concerned about credible reports that Saudis are funding, directly and indirectly, efforts to propagate globally, including in the United States, a religious ideology that promotes hate, intolerance, and other human rights violations, in some cases violence, toward members of other religious groups, both Muslim and non-Muslims.
The government of Saudi Arabia vigorously enforces its prohibition against all forms of public religious expression other than that of those who follow the government's interpretation and presentation of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam. This is despite the fact that there are large communities of non-Muslims and Muslims from a variety of doctrinal schools of Islam residing in Saudi Arabia. The government tightly controls the religious activity it permits – through controls on the building of mosques, the appointment of imams, the regulation of sermons and public celebrations, and the content of religious education in public schools – and suppresses religious views of both Saudi and non-Saudi Muslims that do not conform to official positions. Shi'a (including Ismaili) clerics and religious scholars have been detained and imprisoned on account of their religious views. Numerous Christian foreign workers and Shi'a Muslims continue to be detained, imprisoned, tortured, and deported.
Restrictions on public religious practice, for both Saudis and non-Saudis, are enforced in large part by the mutawaa, public enforcers of religious behavior. The mutawaa have been involved in raids on worship services, including those in private homes. They have also harassed, detained, and even meted out extrajudicial punishments to individuals deemed to stray from "appropriate" dress and/or behavior, including any outward displays of religiosity, such as wearing religious symbols.
Although the government has publicly taken the position that it permits non-Muslims to worship in private, the guidelines as to what constitutes "private" worship are vague. Persons worshipping privately have been harassed, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and deported by the authorities, and forced to go to great lengths to conceal private religious activity from those authorities. Even diplomatic personnel from Western countries face difficulties in their religious practice; these difficulties are compounded for foreign contract workers that have no diplomatic standing and little or no access to private religious services conducted at diplomatic facilities. Moreover, the government does not allow clergy to enter the country in order to perform private religious services for foreigners legally residing in Saudi Arabia.
A series of arrests of Christian foreign contract workers in Jeddah in 2001 and 2002 further called into question official Saudi policy on private worship. Between June and September 2001, 14 Christians were arrested for worshipping privately, and all were deported by the end of March 2002. In April and May 2002, more than 30 Christian foreign workers were detained in raids on religious worship services. By September, most had been deported. In addition, the government's monopoly on the interpretation of Islam and other abuses of the right to freedom of religion adversely affect the fundamental rights of women in Saudi Arabia, including their right to freedom of speech, movement, association, and religion, freedom from coercion, their access to education, and their full equality before the law.