Exactly How Many Political Prisoners Are Held in Saudi Prisons?
In the last decades, Saudi Arabia has a history of jailing political dissidents. This situation has not changed, and since 2010 the number of political prisoners has continued to increase. A large part of the responsibility for this lies with the Arab Spring protests and their many repercussions in this country.
One typical case of political dissidents brutally repressed was the Umma Islamic Party, created at the height of the Arab Spring in February of 2011. Part of their founding platform was the demand of the release of 188 political prisoners needed to being a political reform of the Saudi government. Most of the party’s founders were arrested only a week after the party was formed. All but one were released later that year, but were forced to sign declarations not to continue protesting the government. They were also banned from travel and work. In the period since late 2011, well-known activists for the release of political prisoners have been arrested. Protests in March of 2011 sparked hundreds of arrests of political prisoners, particularly on March 11, which received the name “Day of Rage”. It is important to note that most of these arrests were arbitrary, with most either released without charge or detained on security-related charges.
There is a grievance board that has been established for arbitrary detentions. The inclusion of international journalists and international NGOs in these trials has helped release political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. However, in most cases, the courts are powerless, often claiming lack of jurisdiction or other bureaucratic reasons to not act. The Ministry of interior in Saudi Arabia has repeatedly acted to deny political prisoners basic rights, such as the opportunity to consult with a lawyer or contact anyone in the outside. The year 2012 saw an increase in prisoner sit-ins and other peaceful protests in an effort to free political prisoners. Security forces have shut down these protests brutally, using live ammunition in at least one case.
It is difficult to estimate exactly how many political prisoners are being held by the Saudi government. This is in large part because the Saudi government itself refuses to acknowledge the presence of political prisoners in its prisons. In 2011, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior stated that there are absolutely no political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. According to this statement, every prisoner has the right to a fair trial and access to a lawyer. They blamed prisoners themselves, claiming that imprisonment for political dissent simply does not exist. In fact, the Islamic Human Rights commission has stated that, at a minimum, the number of political prisoners currently in Saudi Arabia is at least of 30,000, inferred from the occupancy of Saudi prisons and the factor of overpopulation that currently exists.