Saudi Arabia - Country of Concern: latest update, 31 December 2014

There was no significant change in the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia between October and December.

Saudi Arabia continued to make incremental improvements on human rights between October and December as it developed its reform programme. Led by the King, throughout the year there have been small improvements on issues such as women's rights.

We are continuing to engage with the Saudi Arabian government on the issue of women's rights, as we still have serious concerns about the ability of women to participate equally in society. In December, two Saudi Arabian women, Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi, were arrested for attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. They held valid Emirati driving licences. Their court cases are being held in the Specialised Criminal Court, which is meant for security and terrorism cases, but has seen a number of trials of human rights activists.

We recognise that there are important developments underway in Saudi Arabia, such as the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme (which sends thousands of young Saudi Arabian women abroad to study), and the right to participate in the upcoming municipal (local) elections in 2015. In December, six female members of the Shura Council were appointed as Deputy Chairpersons of committees, including the health, finance and foreign affairs committees.

In 2014, the number of women in employment in Saudi Arabia increased significantly. There are now over 400,000 women employed in the private sector, as opposed to 183,000 in 2013. According to statistics released in December from the Saudi Arabian government, there are currently over 1 million women looking for employment.

The death penalty continues to be used in Saudi Arabia. According to official statistics, 86 people have been executed this year. We believe that a large number of these were historical cases, and there were fewer death penalty sentences passed in 2014. The majority of executions were for the crimes of murder, drugs-related offences and armed robbery. We continue to have concerns about the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, including that the executions do not meet EU minimum standards. We frequently raise the issue with the Saudi authorities, bilaterally and through the European Union, and will continue to do so.

We are aware of one incident of amputation, which occurred in December.

In October 2014, co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, Suad Al Shammari, was arrested for insulting Islam and endangering public order. Her co-founder, Raif Badawi, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in May. Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was handed the death sentence on 15 October after being convicted for offences including igniting sectarian strife, insulting the Prophet's companions, calling for the toppling of the Saudi state and armed confrontation with the security forces.

We continue to follow these and other cases closely, and to attend trials where possible. Some human rights defenders or their families have asked that the UK does not involve itself in their activities because they believe it undermines their credibility in the country, and may prove counterproductive.

Updated 21 January 2015

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