Saudi Arabia - Country of Concern: latest update, 31 March 2013

There was no significant change in the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia between January and March. On 31 January 2014, the government of Saudi Arabia published the full text of its new counter-terrorism and terrorism financing legislation, outlining the procedures and punishments to be applied. The law defines terrorism as any "criminal act that destabilises society's security or stability and exposes national unity to harm, disabling the ruling system, or offending the nation's reputation or position". The crime of terrorist financing is defined as "any action that includes gathering, giving or allocating funds to any terrorist activity, collective or individual, domestic or perpetrated abroad". The law is applicable to both Saudis and foreigners and applies to offences committed either within or outside the Kingdom. Some groups have expressed their concerns about the potential for the broad definitions to be used against those engaging in civil and political debate and calling for reform. We will monitor the use of this law closely.

On 7 March, the Ministry of Interior issued a decree creating Saudi Arabia's first list of proscribed organisations. Amongst the groups included were Al Qaeda and its affiliates (including the Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda-Iraq, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), Saudi Hezbollah and certain Houthi Groups in Yemen. The list also included the Muslim Brotherhood.

Following the publication of these decrees, the Ministry of Interior announced that the number of extremist hash-tags being used on Twitter in Saudi Arabia dropped by 90%, and Jihad-inciting hash-tags by 40%. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest internet usage rates in the world. In December 2013, the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission reported that there were 16.4 million internet users in Saudi Arabia, equivalent to around 55% of the population.

Following the expiry on 4 November 2013 of the amnesty for illegal workers to regularise their status or leave the country, the Saudi authorities have continued to detain illegally registered migrants. On 20 March, the Ministry of Interior reported they had deported 370,000 illegal migrants to their countries of origin, while another 18,000 people were in detention centres awaiting deportation. We continue to encourage the government of Saudi Arabia to work with countries and specialist agencies, such as the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), to manage the return and resettlement process smoothly.

We continue to be concerned by reports of administration of corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia. One prominent case in February 2014 saw reports that a man had been sentenced to 2,400 lashes and to have a tooth broken after being found guilty of beating his mother and breaking her tooth. The lashes will be given in 60 parts, 40 every ten days. While online reaction to the reports of the sentence in Saudi Arabia was deeply supportive of the sentence, the UK Government condemns all forms of judicial corporal punishment, and believe it amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It is incompatible with international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture, to which Saudi Arabia acceded in 1997.

We continue to monitor the situation in Eastern Province. Recent anecdotal evidence suggests that the level of unrest remains low, although there are still occasional demonstrations and security incidents.

On 3 February, Minister for the Middle East, Hugh Robertson, visited one of the Saudi Ministry of Interior's flagship de-radicalisation centres, where he saw how the Saudis work to rehabilitate radicalised detainees, including those now returning from Syria. He also discussed with the Secretary General of the Shura Council, to which 30 women were first appointed in January 2013, the role of women in providing policy and legislation advice to the King.

On 18 February, Senior Minister of State, Baroness Warsi, visited Jeddah and Makkah. Following her speech at the Grand Mosque in Muscat on religious tolerance and the challenge of sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia, she raised the importance of minority rights with senior government and religious figures in Makkah, including the Governor and Mayor of Makkah, Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, and the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Baroness Warsi also discussed women's rights in Saudi Arabia, including with prominent women in Jeddah.

While no official figures are published, reports indicate that by the end of March, 11 people had been executed in 2014. Those executed were mainly convicted of murder, armed robbery and drugs related offences.


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