Human Rights in Saudi Arabia: An Overview
According to the most recent reports from Amnesty International and other Human Rights organizations, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a dismal human rights record. Although Saudi Arabia has taken steps towards improving their image to the world under the leadership of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, it is unclear whether there has been any kind of substantial improvement in the state of this country’s citizens’ individual freedoms. It is important to note that there are as many myths as there are facts about the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East, especially considering the vested interest different parties have in painting these countries in a favorable or unfavorable light. Looking at the facts, however, it is clear that there is an entrenched problem in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi government has a history of restricting freedoms of association and assembly as well as a systematic restriction of individual freedom of expression. Actions taken by the Saudi government in the last year have included using force against political dissent and imprisoning critics of the government. It is especially important to note that the Saudi government has targeted many notable defenders of human rights. Trials in these arrests have often been unfair, with a lack of respect for due process. It seems that the Saudi government has taken advantage of anti-terrorism activities to silence critics. The enactment of a special anti-terrorism court with the power to bypass certain procedural restrictions and hand down death sentences has resulted in various human rights violations. This is because new legislation was introduced that equated criticism of the established government and peaceful demonstration with terrorism.
Activists and human rights watchers have reported a crackdown on online activities. The Saudi government has routinely intimidated both activists and their family members, in many cases as a result of their reporting of human rights violation. Few things are as pernicious in Saudi Arabia as an institutional discrimination against Shi’a activists, who have been disproportionately jailed and sentenced to death. Many confessions that resulted in convictions were the result of torture, and sentences may include flogging and similar corporal punishment. The extensive use of the death penalty and torture are among the most serious violations of human rights in modern day Saudi Arabia.
Among other notable human rights violations are the Saudi government’s appalling treatment of women and foreign migrants. Women are discriminated under the law and in daily life. One promising development was the recent introduction of a law criminalizing domestic violence. However, in practice this law has failed to adequately protect women. Foreign migrants in the thousands have been detained and deported. In many cases, the Saudi government has failed to provide asylum to individuals that were entitled to it, returning foreign migrants to countries where they would be placed seriously at risk.