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Title:  Saudi Arabia Human Rights Practices, 1995   
Author:  U.S. Department of State    
Date:  March 1996    
 
 
 
 
                          SAUDI ARABIA 
 
 
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy without elected representative institutions 
or political parties.  It is ruled by King Fahd bin Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud, 
a son of King Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud, who unified the country in the early 
20th century.  The King and the Crown Prince are chosen from among the 
male descendants of King Abd Al-Aziz.  There is no written constitution.  
There is no concept of the separation of religion and state.  The 
Government enforces adherence to the precepts of a rigorously 
conservative form of Islam--a position that enjoys near-consensus 
support among Saudi citizens. 
 
In 1992 King Fahd appointed a Consultative Council, the Majlis Ash-
Shura, and similar provincial assemblies.  The Council began holding 
sessions in 1994.  The Government does not permit the establishment of 
political parties and suppresses opposition views.  The legal system is 
based on Shari'a, or Islamic law.  Most Saudis respect the legal system 
which they believe is divinely inspired. 
 
Police and border forces under the Ministry of Interior are responsible 
for internal security.  Members of the security forces committed abuses.  
The Mutawwa'in, or Religious Police, compose the Committee to Prevent 
Vice and Promote Virtue, a semiautonomous agency that encourages 
adherence to Islamic values by monitoring public behavior.  The 
Mutawwa'in are government employees; however, private citizens sometimes 
represent themselves as Mutawwa'in when in fact they are not.  The 
Mutawwa'in continued to confront, and sometimes abuse, citizens and 
foreigners of both sexes. 
 
The oil industry has transformed Saudi Arabia from a pastoral, 
agricultural, and commercial society to a rapidly urbanizing one 
characterized by large-scale infrastructure projects, the emergence of a 
welfare state, and millions of foreign workers.  Oil revenues account 
for 37 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 72 percent of 
government income.  Agriculture accounts for only about 8 percent of 
GDP.  Government spending, including spending on the national airline, 
power, water, telephone, education and health services, accounts for 36 
percent of GDP.  About 37 percent of the economy is in private hands, 
and the Government is promoting further privatization of the economy. 
 
The Government commits or tolerates serious abuses.  Aspects of the law 
prohibit or restrict freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and 
association.  There is systematic discrimination against women, and 
strict limitations, and even suppression, of the rights of workers and 
ethnic and religious minorities.  Ministry of Interior officers 
allegedly abused prisoners and facilitated incommunicado detention in 
contradiction of Saudi law, but with the acquiescence of the Government.  
Arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention are problems, as well as 
violence against women.  There is no mechanism for citizens to change 
their government.  Since the death of King Abd Al-Aziz, the King and 
Crown Prince have been chosen from among his sons, who themselves have 
had preponderant influence in the choice.  A 1992 royal decree reserves 
for the King exclusive power to name the Crown Prince.  The Government 
bases its legitimacy on governance according to Islamic law.  The 
Government disagrees with internationally accepted definitions of human 
rights and views Islamic law as the only necessary guide to protect 
human rights. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings by 
government officials.  However, in August Abdullah Bin Abd Al-Rahman Al-
Hidaif, a supporter of the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate 
Rights (CDLR), an opposition group based in London, was sentenced to 
death by a Saudi court and executed for the 1994 attempted murder by 
acid of an Interior Ministry official.  Al-Hidaif's execution, by 
beheading, was carried out as a form of "Ta'zeer"--as punishment 
justifiably disproportionate to the crime so as to deter others who 
might contemplate similar crimes, or even sympathize with acts of 
political resistance that bring disunity to the community.  Nine others 
associated with Al-Hidaif were sentenced to prison terms for related 
crimes (see Sections 1.d. and 1.e.). 
 
In November unidentified assailants set off two car bombs near the Saudi 
National Guard headquarters in Riyadh, killing 6 people, including 5 
Americans, and wounding 60.  At least two previously unknown groups 
claimed responsibility, but their statements shed no light on the 
identity of the perpetrators.  Another obscure group warned twice 
earlier in the year that U.S. and British military personnel would 
become "legitimate targets" if they did not depart the Kingdom.  A 
government investigation into the bombing was ongoing at year's end. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
There were credible reports that the authorities continued to torture 
and otherwise abuse detainees, including foreigners.  A common method of 
torture is beating, especially "fallaqa," which is a beating on the 
soles of the feet.  The authorities also deprive detainees of sleep. 
 
Ministry of Interior officers are allegedly responsible for most 
incidents of abuse.  The Government's failure to announce the punishment 
of human rights abusers has contributed to the public perception that 
abuses may be committed with impunity.  An acquaintance of detained 
religious activist Salman Al-Awdah claimed that the cleric was 
hospitalized in January with a kidney ailment following beatings at the 
hands of Interior Ministry officials.  It is not possible to verify such 
claims. 
 
The Mutawwa'in and uniformed policemen were also responsible for abuse.  
On the eve of the new year, Mutaww'in raided a private party and 
arrested dozens of young Saudis and foreigners, including minors, for 
associating with unrelated persons of the opposite sex, and for 
suspicion of possessing alcohol.  One detainee was chained to a chair 
after arrest and struck by several Mutawwa'in.  He was later forced to 
stand with his arms outstretched; whenever his arms lowered from 
exhaustion, a uniformed policeman would ignite a cigarette lighter under 
his outstretched arms and fingers.  Other persons attending the party 
were also physically abused during and after their arrest. 
 
The Government rigorously observes criminal punishments according to its 
interpretation of Islamic law, including amputation for repeated theft, 
execution by beheading, and stoning.  In 1995 the authorities beheaded 
191 persons, including 5 women.  Whereas in 1994 all persons executed 
had been convicted of one of only three capital offenses--rape, murder, 
or drug trafficking--persons were executed in 1995 for a wider variety 
of crimes, including alcohol trafficking, armed robbery, adultery, 
practicing witchcraft, and attempted murder.  The 1995 total was 
considerably higher than the 59 executed in 1994.  There were twice as 
many non-Saudi executed as Saudis. 
 
In accordance with Shari'a, repeated thievery is punished by amputation 
of the right hand.  In 1995 they imposed this punishment on two Saudis 
and seven foreigners, including one woman.  One Sudanese convicted of 
murder had a hand and a leg amputated.  For less serious crimes, such as 
drunkenness or publicly flouting Islamic precepts, flogging with a cane 
is frequently the punishment. 
 
Conditions in standard jails and prisons vary throughout the kingdom.  
Prisons, particularly in the Eastern Province, are of generally high 
quality, with air-conditioned cells, good nutrition, regular exercise, 
and careful patrolling by prison guards.  Some detainees in police 
station jails, however, have complained of overcrowding and unsanitary 
conditions under which dozens of inmates share a communal cell and a 
single toilet cut into the cell floor.  Family members are allowed 
access. 
 
Boards of Investigation and Public Prosecution, organized on a regional 
basis, were established by the King in 1993.  The members of these 
boards have the right to inspect prisons, review prisoners' files, and 
hear their complaints.  The Government, however, does not permit visits 
to jails or prisons by human rights monitors.  Some officials from 
foreign embassies have been granted regular access to incarcerated 
foreign citizens. 
 
No impartial observer is allowed access to specialized Ministry of 
Interior prisons, such as Al-Hair Prison south of Riyadh, where the 
Government detains persons accused of political subversion. 
 
Representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 
(UNHCR) are present at the Rafha refugee camp housing former Iraqi 
prisoners of war and civilians who fled Iraq following the Gulf War.  
According to UNHCR officials, there is no systematic abuse of refugees 
by camp guards.  When occasional instances of abuse are reported, the 
Saudi authorities are generally responsive and willing to reprimand 
abusive guards.  The camp itself is comfortable and well-run. 
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest.  However, arresting officers have 
traditionally exercised broad discretion in determining the grounds for 
arrest and have frequently set their own standards for the rights of 
detainees.  As a result, there have traditionally been few procedures to 
safeguard against abuse. 
 
Authorities usually detain suspects for no longer than 3 days before 
charging them, in accordance with a regulation issued by the Ministry of 
Interior in 1983, although serious exceptions have been reported.  The 
regulation also has provisions for bail in cases involving other than 
major crimes.  Also, detainees are sometimes released on the 
recognizance of a patron or sponsoring employer without the payment of 
bail.  If not released, the accused are detained on average 1 to 2 
months before going to trial, although there are reports of persons 
having been detained for years awaiting action on their cases. 
 
The UNHCR reported that seven Iraqi refugees in Rafha camp were arrested 
December 1992 following the murder of a fellow refugee.  After 2 1/2 
years of incarceration, six of the detainees were released in June, 
having never been tried or officially charged. 
 
There is no established procedure providing detainees with the right to 
inform their family of their arrest.  If asked, the authorities usually 
confirm an arrest of foreign residents.  In general, however, embassies 
learn about such arrests through informal channels.  The authorities may 
take as long as several months to provide official notification of the 
arrest of foreigners, if at all.  In capital cases, foreigners have been 
tried and executed without notification of their arrest delivered to 
their embassies. 
 
The Mutawwa'in have the authority to detain people for no more than 24 
hours for violation of behavior standards.  However, they sometimes 
exceed this limit before delivering detainees to the regular police (see 
Section 1.f.).  Current procedures require a police officer to accompany 
the Mutawwa'in before the latter makes an arrest, although this 
requirement is often ignored.  A number of long-term foreign residents 
have attested that the Mutawwa'in are much more active in harassing 
individuals than a decade ago, and have become increasingly active since 
the Gulf War. 
 
Detainees arrested by the General Directorate of Investigation (GDI), 
the Ministry of Interior's Security Service, or "Mubahith," are commonly 
held incommunicado during the initial phase of an investigation, which 
may last weeks or months.  The GDI allows the detainees only limited 
contact with their families or lawyers. 
 
The authorities often detain without charge people who publicly 
criticize the Government or charge them with attempting to destabilize 
the Government (see Sections 2.a. and 3).  In August the Government 
sentenced one Saudi man to 5 years in prison in part for possessing 
leaflets and posters mentioning the CDLR, and another to 3 years in 
prison for attending meetings in support of the group and its exiled 
spokesman, Mohammad Al-Mas'ari.  Both were associates of Abdullah Bin 
Abd Al-Rahman Al-Hidaif, who was executed for assaulting a security 
official with acid (see Sections 1.a. and 1.e.). 
 
The vociferously antigovernment CDLR has made repeated claims that more 
than 300 clerics are currently detained for political reasons, although 
this number is impossible to corroborate.  The authorities continued to 
detain Salman Al-Awdah and Safar Al-Hawali, Muslim clerics who were 
arrested in September 1994 for publicly criticizing the Government.  
Their detention sparked protest demonstrations resulting in the arrest 
of 157 persons for antigovernment activities in October 1994.  At the 
end of 1994, 27 remained in detention pending investigations; the 
Government did not announced the release of any of those detainees 
during the year.  The thousands of prisoners and detainees released in 
February under the annual Ramadan amnesty included no political 
dissidents. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The independence of the judiciary is prescribed by law and is usually 
respected in practice, although judges occasionally accede to the 
influence of members of the royal family and their associates. 
 
Judicial, financial, and administrative control of the courts rests with 
the Ministry of Justice.  Jurisprudence is based on Shari'a, or Islamic 
law.  Regular Shari'a courts exercise jurisdiction over common criminal 
cases and civil suits regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, and 
inheritance.  These courts base judgments largely on the Koran and on 
the Sunna, the authenticated actions and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad.  
Cases involving relatively small penalties are tried in summary courts; 
more serious crimes are adjudicated in general courts.  Appeals from 
both courts are heard by the appeals courts in Mecca and Riyadh. 
 
Other civil proceedings, including those involving claims against the 
Government and enforcement of foreign judgments, are held before 
specialized administrative tribunals, such as the Commission for the 
Settlement of Labor Disputes and the Board of Grievances. 
 
The military justice system has jurisdiction over uniformed personnel 
and civil servants charged with violations of military regulations.  
Court-martial decisions are reviewed by the Minister of Defense and 
Aviation and by the King. 
 
The Government permits Shi'a Muslims to use their own legal tradition to 
adjudicate only noncriminal cases within their community. 
 
There is a Supreme Judicial Council, which is not a court and may not 
reverse decisions made by an appeals court.  However, the Council may 
refer decisions back to the lower courts for reconsideration.  Its 
members are appointed by the King, as are most senior jurists, called 
muftis.  Only the Council may discipline or remove a judge. 
 
There is also a Council of Senior Religious Scholars, which is an 
autonomous body of 15 senior religious jurists, including the Minister 
of Justice.  It establishes the legal principles to guide lower court 
judges in deciding individual cases. 
 
Defendants usually appear without an attorney before a judge, who 
determines guilt or innocence in accordance with Shari'a standards.  
Defense lawyers may offer their client advice before trial or may attend 
the trial as interpreters for those unfamiliar with Arabic.  The courts 
do not provide foreign defendants with translators.  There is no 
licensing procedure for lawyers.  Individuals may choose any person to 
represent them by a "power of attorney" filed with the court and the 
Ministry of Justice.  Most trials are closed. 
 
In the absence of two witnesses, or four witnesses in the case of 
adultery, confessions before a judge are almost always required for 
criminal conviction--a situation which repeatedly has led prosecuting 
authorities to seek forced confessions.  Sentencing is not uniform and 
may vary according to the nationality of the defendant. 
 
Under Shari'a law, as interpreted and applied in Saudi Arabia, crimes 
against Muslims receive harsher penalties than those against non-
Muslims.  In the case of wrongful death, the amount of indemnity or 
"blood money" awarded to relatives varies with the nationality, 
religion, and sex of the victim.  A sentence may be changed at any stage 
of review, except for punishments stipulated by the Koran. 
 
Provincial governors have the authority to exercise leniency and reduce 
a judge's sentence.  In some instances, governors have reportedly 
threatened and even detained judges over disagreements on their 
decisions.  In general, the public perceives members of the royal 
family, and other powerful families, as not subject to the same rule of 
law as ordinary citizens.  For example, judges do not have the power to 
issue a warrant summoning any member of the royal family. 
 
The King and his advisors review cases involving capital punishment to 
ensure that the court applied the proper legal and Islamic principles.  
The King has the authority to grant pardons and commute death sentences 
but does not have the authority to pardon capital crimes committed 
against individuals.  In such cases, he may request the victim's next of 
kin to pardon the murderer--usually in return for compensation from the 
family or the King. 
 
There is insufficient information to determine the number of political 
prisoners because the Government does not provide information on such 
persons or respond to inquiries about them.  Moreover, the Government 
conducts closed trials for persons who may be political prisoners and in 
other cases has detained persons incommunicado for long periods while 
under investigation.  At year's end, at least nine persons were serving 
prison terms for their connections to CDLR and alleged involvement in 
the 1994 assault on an Interior Ministry official (see Sections 1.c. and 
1.d.). 
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The sanctity of family life and the inviolability of the home are among 
the most fundamental of Islamic precepts.  Royal decrees announced in 
1992 include provisions calling for the Government to defend the home 
from unlawful incursions. 
 
The police must generally demonstrate reasonable cause and obtain 
permission from the provincial governor before searching a private home, 
but warrants are not required.  However, some Mutawwa'in continued to 
enter homes forcibly, searching for evidence of non-Islamic behavior, 
and harassing and abusing perceived transgressors. 
 
Customs officials routinely open mail for contraband including material 
deemed pornographic as well as non-Muslim religious material.  They 
regularly confiscate materials deemed offensive.  The authorities use 
informants, wiretaps, and open mail in internal security matters. 
 
The Government enforces most social and Islamic religious norms, which 
are matters of law (see Section 5).  Women may not marry non-Saudis 
without government permission; men must obtain approval from the 
Ministry of Interior to marry women from countries outside the 6 states 
of the Gulf Cooperation Council.  Although women are prohibited from 
marrying non-Muslims, men have the right to marry Christians and Jews, 
in accordance with Islamic law. 
 
Both citizens and foreigners were targets of harassment by members of 
the Mutawwa'in and by religious vigilantes acting independently of the 
Mutawwa'in.  The Government enjoins the Mutawwa'in to follow established 
procedures and to offer instruction in a polite manner; following 
especially egregious altercations, the authorities have temporarily 
exerted tighter control over the Mutawwa'in.  The Government, however, 
has not condemned the actions of religious vigilantes or sought to 
disband such groups. 
 
Mutawwa'in enforcement of strict standards of social behavior included 
the closure of commercial establishments during the daily prayer 
observances, modest dress in public, and avoidance of video tape rental 
shops.  They harassed Saudi and foreign women for failure to observe 
strict dress codes, and for being in the company of males who are not 
their close relatives.  They also harassed and arrested non-Muslims 
attempting to conduct religious services (see Section 2.c.). 
 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The law severely limits freedom of speech and press.  The authorities do 
not countenance criticism of Islam, the ruling family, or the 
Government.  Persons whose criticisms align them with an organized 
political opposition are subject to arrest and detention until they 
confess their crime or sign a statement promising not to resume such 
criticisms, which is tantamount to a confession. 
 
In 1994 CDRL spokesman Al-Mas'ari secretly fled to the United Kingdom, 
where he sought political asylum and established an overseas branch of 
the CDLR (see sections 1.c., 1.d. and 4).  After the CDLR criticized the 
Government in the international press in 1993, security forces detained 
38 of its members, including Al-Mas'ari, confiscated their passports, 
and forbade them to travel or speak publicly.  The authorities dismissed 
several founding members from their government jobs.  They subsequently 
released the detainees after they signed statements promising not to 
discuss the Government's policies or communicate with anyone outside the 
country by telephone or facsimile machine.  Al-Mas'ari was released in 
November 1993 after spending 6 months in detention. 
 
In the United Kingdom, Al-Mas'ari continued to disseminate tracts 
critical of the Government, particularly of King Fahd, Interior Minister 
Prince Naif, and Riyadh governor Prince Salman.  His publicized views 
have expressed opposition to peace with Israel and to Saudi support for 
the peace process.  After Al-Mas'ari fled, security forces arrested 15 
to 20 of his relatives and supporters.  In late 1994, the Government 
released several of these detainees, including Dr. Fouad Dahlawi; Al-
Mas'ari's brother, Lu'ay Al-Mas'ari; and Al-Mas'ari's brothers-in-law, 
Rashad and Nabil Al-Mudarris.  The Government did not publicly 
acknowledge the detention of any CDLR supporter until August when it 
sentenced nine remaining detainees to prison terms and executed another 
(see Sections 1.a. and 1.d.). 
 
The press is privately owned but publicly subsidized.  A 1982 media 
policy statement and a 1965 national security law prohibit the 
dissemination of criticism of the Government.  The Media Policy 
Statement urges journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote 
Arab interests, and preserve the cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia.  The 
Ministry of Information appoints, and may remove, the editors in chief.  
It also provides guidelines to newspapers on controversial issues.  The 
Government owns the Saudi Press Agency, which expresses official 
government views. 
 
Newspapers typically publish domestic news on sensitive subjects, such 
as crime or terrorism, only after the authorities arrest and sentence 
the perpetrators.  The Government suppresses any news regarded as a 
threat to national security.  However, the Saudi media coverage of the 
November bombing of the National Guard headquarters was complete and 
timely.  The press reports most foreign news objectively unless it has 
adverse implications for Saudi Arabia. 
 
The authorities censor stories about the Kingdom in the foreign press.  
Censors may remove or blacken the offending articles, glue pages 
together, or prevent certain issues of foreign publications from 
entering the market.  The Government tightly restricts the entry of 
foreign journalists into the Kingdom. 
 
The Government owns and operates the television and radio companies.  
Government censors review foreign programs and songs, often removing any 
reference to politics, religions other than Islam, pork or pigs, 
alcohol, or sexual innuendo. 
 
There are as many as 300,000 satellite receiving dishes which provide 
citizens with foreign broadcasts.  The legal status of these devices is 
ambiguous.  The Government ordered a halt to their import in 1992--at 
the request of religious leaders who objected to foreign programming 
available on satellite channels.  In March 1994, the Government banned 
the sale, installation, and maintenance of dishes and supporting 
devices, but the number of dishes continues to increase and residents 
may legally subscribe to satellite decoding services that require a 
dish. 
 
The Government censors all forms of public artistic expression.  The 
authorities prohibit cinemas and public musical or theatrical 
performances, except those that are strictly folkloric. 
 
Academic freedom is restricted.  The authorities prohibit the study of 
evolution, Freud, Marx, Western music, and Western philosophy.  Some 
professors believe that government and conservative religious informers 
monitor their classroom comments. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Government strictly limits these freedoms.  It prohibits public 
demonstrations as a means of political expression and the establishment 
of political parties or any type of opposition group (see Section 3).  
By its power to license associations, the Government ensures that groups 
conform to public policy.  Rare exceptions occur. 
 
Public meetings are segregated by sex.  Unless meetings are sponsored by 
diplomatic missions or approved by the appropriate governor, foreign 
residents seeking to hold unsegregated meetings risk arrest and 
deportation.  The authorities monitor any large gathering of people, 
especially of women. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
Freedom of religion does not exist.  Islam is the official religion, and 
all citizens must be Muslims.  The Government prohibits the practice of 
other religions.  In December seven Indian nationals were reportedly 
arrested in the city of Jubayl for conducting Christmas services.  They 
were soon released after their embassy's intervention.  An undetermined 
number of Filipinos were arrested in Damman on the same charge. 
 
Conversion by a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy.  
Public apostasy is a crime under Shari'a law and punishable by death.  
There were no executions in 1995 for apostasy, although one Saudi man--
by law a Muslim--was executed for practicing witchcraft. 
 
Islamic practice is generally limited to that of the Wahhabi sect's 
interpretation of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.  
Practices contrary to this interpretation, such as visits to the graves 
of renowned Muslims, are discouraged. 
 
The Shi'a Muslim minority (500,000 of over 12 million citizens) lives 
mostly in the Eastern Province.  They are the objects of officially 
sanctioned social and economic discrimination (see Section 5).  Prior to 
1990, the Government prohibited Shi'ite public processions during the 
Islamic month of Muharram and restricted other processions and 
congregations to designated areas in the major Shi'ite cities.  Since 
1990, the authorities have permitted marches on the Shi'a holiday of 
Ashura, provided that the marchers do not display banners or engage in 
self-flagellation.  In June the Ashura commemorations in the Eastern 
Province passed without incident. 
 
The Government seldom permits private construction of Shi'ite mosques.  
The Shi'a have declined government offers to build state-supported 
mosques because Shi'ite motifs would be prohibited in them.  One of the 
60 members of the Majlis Ash-Shura is a Shi'a. 
 
The Government does not permit public or private non-Muslim religious 
activities.  Persons wearing religious symbols of any kind in public 
risk confrontation with the Mutawwa'in.  The general prohibition against 
religious symbols applies also to Muslims.  A Muslim wearing a Koranic 
necklace in public would be admonished.  Non-Muslim worshippers risk 
arrest, lashing, and deportation for engaging in any religious activity 
that attracts official attention. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The Government restricts the travel of Saudi women, who must obtain 
written permission from their closest male relative before the 
authorities will allow them to board public transportation between 
different parts of the country or travel abroad (see Section 5).  Saudi 
males may travel anywhere within the country. 
 
The Government requires foreign residents to carry identification cards.  
It does not permit foreigners to travel outside the city of their 
employment or change their workplace without their sponsor's permission.  
Foreign residents who travel in the Kingdom are often asked by the 
authorities to show they that possess letters of permission from their 
employers. 
 
Sponsors generally retain possession of the workers' passports.  Foreign 
workers must obtain permission from their sponsors to travel abroad.  If 
sponsors are involved in a commercial or labor dispute with foreign 
employees, they may ask the authorities to prohibit the employees from 
departing the country until the dispute is resolved.  Some sponsors use 
this pressure tactic to resolve disputes in their favor--or to have 
foreign employees deported. 
 
The Government seizes the passports of all potential suspects and 
witnesses in criminal cases and suspends the issuance of exit visas to 
them, until the case is tried.  As a result, some foreign nationals are 
forced to remain in the Kingdom for lengthy periods against their will.  
The authorities sometimes confiscate the passports of suspected 
subversives.  The Government prevents Shi'a Muslims believed to have 
pro-Iranian sympathies from traveling abroad. 
 
Citizens may emigrate, but the law prohibits dual citizenship.  There 
are no provisions for long-term foreign residents to acquire 
citizenship.  However, foreigners are granted citizenship in rare cases, 
generally through the advocacy of an influential patron. 
 
The 1992 Basic Law provides that "the State will grant political asylum 
if the public interest mitigates" in favor of it.  The language does not 
specify clear rules for adjudicating asylum cases.  In general, the 
authorities regard refugees and displaced persons like other foreign 
workers:  they must have sponsors for employment or risk expulsion.  Of 
the 35,000 Iraqi civilians and former prisoners of war allowed refuge in 
Saudi Arabia at the end of the Gulf War, none has been granted permanent 
asylum by the Saudis. 
 
At year's end, 21,000 of the original 35,000 had been resettled in third 
countries or voluntarily repatriated to Iraq.  Most of the remaining 
14,000 refugees are restricted to the Rafha refugee camp.  In 1993 Human 
Rights Watch reported that refugees were forcibly repatriated to Iraq 
after staging a riot at the Rafha camp.  However, the U.N. High 
Commissioner for Refugees has monitored over 2,700 persons voluntarily 
returning to Iraq from Rafha since December 1991 and found no evidence 
of forcible repatriation of bona fide camp refugees.  However, Iraqis 
who have attempted to infiltrate the camp subsequent to December 1991, 
who are not recognized as refugees by Saudi authorities, have been 
turned back. 
 
The Government has temporarily allowed some foreigners to remain in 
Saudi Arabia in cases where their safety would be jeopardized if they 
were deported to their home countries. 
 
Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
Citizens do not have the right to change their government.  There are no 
formal democratic institutions, and only a few citizens have a voice in 
the choice of leaders or in changing the political system.  The King 
rules in matters civil and religious within certain limitations 
established by religious law, tradition, and the need to maintain 
consensus among the ruling family and religious leaders. 
 
The King is also the Prime Minister, and the Crown Prince serves as 
first deputy Prime Minister.  The King appoints all other ministers, who 
in turn appoint subordinate officials with cabinet concurrence. 
 
In 1993 the King appointed 60 members to a Consultative Council, or 
Majlis Ash-Shura.  This strictly advisory body began to hold sessions in 
1994, but the Council has maintained a very low profile and has not 
publicized its work in detail. 
 
The Council of Senior Islamic Scholars is another advisory body to the 
King and the Cabinet.  It issues decisions based on Shari'a law 
supporting the Government's public policies.  The Government uses the 
Council as an important source of religious legitimacy. 
 
Communication between citizens and the Government is usually expressed 
through client-patron relationships and by affinity groups such as 
tribes, families, and professional hierarchies.  In theory, any male 
citizen or foreign national may express an opinion or air a grievance at 
a Majlis--an open-door meeting held by the King, a prince, or an 
important national and local official.  However, as governmental 
functions have become more complex, time-consuming, and centralized, 
public access to senior officials has become more restricted.  After the 
assassination of King Faisal in 1975, Saudi kings have reduced the 
frequency of their personal contacts with the public.  Access to King 
Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah by ordinary citizens is difficult, in 
part due to strict security measures.  Ministers and district governors 
more readily grant audience at a Majlis.  Participation by women is 
restricted, although some women seek redress through female members of 
the royal family. 
 
Typical topics raised in a Majlis are complaints about bureaucratic 
delay or insensitivity, requests for redress or assistance, and 
criticism of particular acts of government affecting personal or family 
welfare.  Broader "political" concerns--Saudi social, economic, or 
foreign policy--are raised only occasionally. 
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
There are no publicly active human rights groups, and none critical of 
government policies would be permitted. 
 
The Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights was established in 
1993 by six citizens.  CDLR does not advocate internationally recognized 
human rights but takes a rigidly Islamic fundamentalist approach.  
Statements by CDLR supporters have advocated policies and actions that 
are antiwomen and anti-Shi'a.  Other statements, attributed to its 
London-based spokesman, Muhammed Al Masari, have expressed the group's 
"understanding" of the National Guard headquarters bombing (see Section 
1.a.).  After its establishment, the Government acted quickly to repress 
CDLR (see Section 2.a.). 
 
The Government does not permit visits by international human rights 
groups or independent monitors, nor has it signed major international 
human rights treaties and conventions.  The Government disagrees with 
internationally accepted definitions of human rights and views Islamic 
law as the only necessary guide to protect human rights.  Citations of 
Saudi human rights abuses by international monitors or foreign 
governments are routinely ignored or condemned by the Government as 
assaults on Islam.  Sharp criticism leveled by the Government of Turkey 
over the execution in August of four Turkish citizens for smuggling 
amphetamines prompted the Government to issue a strong defense of the 
Shari'a legal code.  
 
Section 5.   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
Systematic discrimination based on sex and religion are built into Saudi 
law.  Saudi law forbids discrimination based on race, but not 
nationality.  The Government and private organizations cooperate in 
providing services for the disabled.  There are no indigenous linguistic 
minorities in Saudi Arabia. 
 
   Women 
 
Hospital workers report that many women are admitted for treatment of 
injuries that apparently result from spousal violence.  Some foreign 
women married to Saudis have suffered physical abuse from the spouse or 
father-in-law.  Embassy officials must seek the assistance of government 
officials to intervene in such cases.  The Government does not keep 
statistics on spousal or other forms of violence against women. 
 
Embassies receive many reports that employers abuse foreign women 
working as domestic servants.  Embassies of countries with large 
domestic servant populations maintain safehouses to which citizens may 
flee from abusive employers.  In August one such safehouse held 68 
residents escaping work situations that included forced confinement, 
withholding of food, beating and other physical abuse, and rape.  Often 
the abuse is at the hands of female Saudis.  In general, the Government 
considers such cases as family matters and does not intervene unless 
charges of abuse are brought to its attention.  It is almost impossible 
for foreign women to obtain redress in the courts due to the courts' 
strict evidentiary rules and the women's own fears of reprisals.  Few 
employers have been punished for such abuses.  There are no private 
support groups or religious associations which can assist these women. 
 
By religious law and social custom, women have the right to own property 
and are entitled to financial support from their husbands or male 
relatives.  However, women have few political and social rights and are 
not treated as equal members of society.  There are no active women's 
rights groups, nor would one be tolerated by the Government.  Women, 
including foreigners, may not legally drive motor vehicles or ride 
bicycles and are restricted in their use of public facilities when men 
are present.  Women must enter city buses by separate rear entrances and 
sit in specially designated sections.  Women risk arrest by the 
Mutawwa'in for riding in a vehicle driven by a male who is not an 
employee or a close male relative.  Women are not admitted to a hospital 
for medical treatment without the consent of their male relative.  By 
law and custom, women may not undertake domestic and foreign travel 
alone (see Section 2.d.). 
 
In public women are expected to wear the abaya, a black garment covering 
the entire body.  A woman's head and face should also be covered.  The 
Mutawwa'in generally expect women from Arab countries, Asia, and Africa 
to comply more fully with Saudi customs of dress than they do Western 
women; nonetheless, in recent years they have increased pressure on 
Western women to wear the abaya and cover their hair. 
 
Women are also subject to discrimination in Islamic law which stipulates 
that daughters receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers--
reflecting the fact that men have financial obligations to their mothers 
and sisters.  In a Shari'a court, the testimony of one man equals that 
of two women. 
 
Although Islamic law permits polygamy for men, it is becoming less 
common.  Islamic law allows a husband four wives, provided that he 
treats each wife equally.  In practice, such equality is left to the 
discretion of the husband.  The Government places greater restrictions 
on women than on men regarding marriage to non-Saudis and non-Muslims 
(see Section 1.f.). 
 
Women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men 
may divorce without giving cause.  If divorced or widowed, a woman 
normally may keep her children until they attain a specified age:  7 
years for boys, 9 years for girls.  Children over these ages are awarded 
to the divorced husband or the deceased husband's family.  Divorced 
women who are foreigners are often prevented by their former husbands 
from visiting their children after divorce. 
 
Women have access to free, but segregated, education through the 
university level.  They constitute 55 percent of all university 
graduates--but are excluded from studying such subjects as engineering, 
journalism, and architecture.  Men are able to study overseas; women may 
do so only if accompanied by a spouse or an immediate male relative. 
 
Women comprise only 5 percent of the work force.  Whereas salary and 
other benefits are the main concerns for men seeking employment, for 
women the primary goal is merely establishing some toehold in the 
private or public sector.  Most employment opportunities for women are 
in education and health care, with lesser opportunity in business, 
philanthropy, banking, retail sales, and the media.  Women wishing to 
enter nontraditional fields are subject to discrimination.  Women may 
not accept jobs in rural areas if they are required to live apart from 
their families.  All workplaces where women are present are segregated 
by sex.  Contact with male supervisors or clients is allowed by 
telephone or facsimile machine.  In July the Ministry of Commerce 
announced that women would no longer be issued business licenses for 
work in fields that might require them to supervise foreign workers, 
interact with male clients, or deal on a regular basis with government 
officials. 
 
   Children 
 
The Government provides all Saudi children with free education and 
medical care.  Children are highly valued in society, and large families 
are common.  Children are not subject to the strict social segregation 
faced by women, though they are segregated by sex in schools starting at 
age 7.  In more general social situations, boys are segregated at age 
12, and girls at the onset of puberty.  It is difficult to gauge the 
prevalence of child abuse, since the Government keeps no statistics on 
such cases and is disinclined to infringe on family privacy.  Societal 
abuse of children does not appear to be a major problem. 
 
   People with Disabilities 
 
Traditionally, disabled individuals were secluded within the family, but 
the provision of government social services has increasingly brought 
them into the public domain.  Public awareness and acceptance of the 
disabled are growing.  The press features articles lauding the public 
accomplishments of disabled persons and sharply criticizing parents who 
neglect disabled children.  The Government and private charitable 
organizations cooperate in education, employment, and other services for 
the disabled.  The law provides hiring quotas for the disabled.  While 
there is no legislation for public accessibility, newer commercial 
buildings often include such access. 
 
   Religious Minorities 
 
The Government is intolerant of the practice of any non-Islamic 
religion.  It also imposes restrictions on the Shi'a Muslim minority 
(see Section 2.c.).  Shi'a citizens are discriminated against in 
government and employment, especially in national security jobs.  
Several years ago the Government subjected Shi'a to employment 
restrictions in the oil industry and has not relaxed them.  Some Sunni 
clerics, including Al-Awdah and one CDLR founder, have made strong anti-
Shi'a statements (see Section 2.a.). 
 
Shi'a also face restrictions on access to several services, despite 
efforts by the Government to improve the social service infrastructure 
in predominantly Shi'a areas of the country.  Since the Iranian 
Revolution, some Shi'a have been subjected periodically to surveillance 
and limitations on travel abroad.  Some Sunni clerics advocate stronger 
government discriminatory measures against Shi'a citizens, accusing them 
of polytheism and apostasy--capital offenses punishable by beheading. 
 
   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
Although racial discrimination is illegal, there is substantial societal 
prejudice based on ethnic or national origin.  Foreign workers from 
Africa and Asia are subject to various forms of  
 
formal and informal discrimination and have the most difficulty in 
obtaining justice for their grievances. 
 
Section 6   Worker Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
Government decrees prohibit the establishment of labor unions and any 
strike activity. 
 
Since July Saudi Arabia has been suspended from the U. S. Overseas 
Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) insurance programs because of the 
Government's lack of compliance with internationally recognized worker 
rights standards. 
 
   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
Collective bargaining is forbidden.  Foreign workers comprise about half 
of the work force.  Wages are set by employers and vary according to the 
nationality of the worker. 
 
There are no export processing zones. 
 
   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
Forced labor has been prohibited since 1962 by the royal decree that 
abolished slavery.  Ratification of the International Labor 
Organization's (ILO) conventions 29 and 105, which prohibit forced 
labor, has the force of law.  However, employers have significant 
control over the movements of foreign employees, giving rise to 
situations that might involve forced labor--especially in remote areas 
where workers are unable to leave their place of work. 
 
Sometimes sponsors prevent foreign workers from obtaining exit visas to 
pressure them to sign a new work contract or to drop claims against 
their employers for unpaid salary.  In another pressure tactic, sponsors 
may refuse to provide foreign workers with a "letter of no objection" 
which would allow them to be employed by another sponsor. 
 
The labor laws do not protect domestic servants.  There were credible 
reports that female domestic servants were sometimes forced to work 12 
to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.  There were numerous confirmed reports 
of runaway maids (see Section 5).  The authorities often returned 
runaway maids to their employers against the maids' wishes. 
 
There have been many reports of workers whose employers have refused to 
pay several months, or even years, of accumulated salary or other 
promised benefits.  Nondomestic workers with such grievances have the 
right to complain before the labor courts, but few do so because of fear 
of deportation.  The  
 
Government abets the exploitation of foreign workers because the system 
for enforcing work contracts is weak and generally favors Saudi 
employers.  Labor cases can take many months to reach a final ruling, 
during which time the employer may prevent the foreign laborer from 
leaving the country; alternatively, an employer may delay a case until a 
worker's funds are exhausted and the worker is forced to leave the 
country. 
 
   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The minimum age for employment is 13 years, which may be waived by the 
Ministry of Labor with the consent of the juvenile's guardian.  There is 
no minimum age for workers employed in family-oriented businesses or in 
other situations that are construed as extensions of the household, 
e.g., farmers, herdsmen, and domestic servants.  Workers in such fields 
are not protected by labor regulations. 
 
Children under age 18 and women may not be employed in hazardous or 
harmful industries, such as mines or industries employing power-operated 
machinery.  While there is no formal government entity charged with 
enforcing the minimum age for employment of children, the Ministry of 
Justice has jurisdiction and has acted as plaintiff in the few cases 
that have arisen against alleged violators. 
 
   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
There is no legal minimum wage.  Labor regulations establish a 48-hour 
workweek at regular pay and allow employers to require up to 12 
additional hours of overtime at time-and-a-half pay.  Labor law provides 
for a 24-hour rest period, normally Fridays, although the employer may 
grant it on another day. 
 
Many foreign nationals who have been recruited abroad have complained 
that after arrival in Saudi Arabia they were presented with work 
contracts specifying lower wages and fewer benefits than originally 
promised.  Other foreign workers have reportedly signed contracts in 
their home countries and were later pressured to sign less favorable 
contracts after arrival.  Reliable reports indicate that the length of 
service called for in the original contract is sometimes increased after 
arrival by as much as 3 years.  Some employees report that at the end of 
their contract service, their employers refuse to grant permission to 
allow them to return home. 
 
The ILO has stated that the Government has not formulated legislation 
implementing the ILO Convention on Equal Pay and that regulations which 
segregate work places by sex, and limit vocational programs for women, 
violate ILO Convention 111. 
 
 
Labor regulations require employers to protect most workers from job-
related hazards and disease.  Foreign nationals report frequent failures 
to enforce health and safety standards.  Workers in family operated 
businesses, farmers, herdsmen, and domestic servants are not covered by 
these regulations. 
 
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[end of document]

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