(Hong Kong) – The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects. The Communist Party-run system, known as shuanggui, has no basis under Chinese law but is a key component of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

“President Xi has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system.”

Video

Video: Rare Story From Inside China's Secret Detention System

The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects.

The 102-page report, “‘Special Measures’: Detention and Torture in Chinese Communist Party’s Shuanggui System,” details abuses against shuanggui detainees, including prolonged sleep deprivation, being forced into stress positions for extended periods of time, deprivation of water and food, and severe beatings. Detainees are also subject to solitary and incommunicado detention in unofficial detention facilities. After “confessing” to corruption, they are typically brought into the criminal justice system, convicted, and sentenced to often lengthy prison terms.

The report is based on 21 Human Rights Watch interviews with four former shuanggui detainees, as well as family members of detainees; 35 detailed accounts from detainees culled from over 200 Chinese media reports; and an analysis of 38 court verdicts from across the country. While there have been commentaries and analyses on the shuanggui system, the Human Rights Watch report is the first to contain firsthand accounts from detainees, as well as drawing on a wide variety of secondary, official sources.

Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.

Sophie Richardson

China Director, Human Rights Watch

The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) oversees the shuanggui system, to which all of the party’s 88 million members are subject. The CCDI and its lower-level offices, local Commissions for Discipline Inspection (CDIs), typically target government officials, but those detained also include bankers, university officials, and entertainment industry figures, among others. Bo Xilai, a former member of the party’s powerful Politburo, was reportedly held under shuanggui, where he said he confessed under “improper pressure” and was later sentenced to life in prison.

The start of a shuanggui investigation is often marked by an individual’s disappearance – family members are given no notification of the person’s detention or location, no information about the alleged infraction, or the length of detention. Detainees have no access to lawyers. Although there are time limits for shuanggui, CDI investigators can seek repeated extensions, permitting detainees to be held indefinitely, often until they confess. Shuanggui facilities are typically rooms in hostels with special features, such as padded walls or a lack of windows, to prevent suicides or escapes. Detainees are guarded round-the-clock by shifts of officials, often put together in an ad hoc fashion for this purpose, and subjected to interrogations by CDI officers.
 

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

A former shuanggui detainee told Human Rights Watch, “If you sit you have to sit for 12 hours straight, if you stand then you have to stand for 12 hours as well. My legs became swollen, and my buttocks were raw and started oozing pus.”

While President Xi has characterized the fight against corruption as a “matter of life and death” for the Communist Party, the same is true for shuanggui detainees: there have been at least 11 deaths in shuanggui custody reported by the media since 2010. In most cases, authorities claimed these were suicides, but family members often suspected mistreatment, and the lack of comprehensive, impartial investigations into these deaths deepens these suspicions. While former detainees reported that the harsh conditions in shuanggui prompted suicidal thoughts, they also said the constant surveillance and the room’s modifications, designed to prevent suicide attempts, made it difficult to put such thoughts into action.

Some CDIs, concerned about the reputational damage caused by deaths in custody, have partnered with hospitals and doctors to provide medical care for detainees whom the CDIs know will be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

CDIs are supposed to hand over evidence of crimes to the procuratorate, the state investigators and prosecutors who are responsible for investigating official crimes. Instead, Human Rights Watch found that procurators work together with CDI officers and participate directly in shuanggui. Such “joint investigations” extract confessions during shuanggui – where detainees have no procedural protections – and then use those confessions in formal legal proceedings. If in those proceedings detainees retract their confessions, claiming that they were made under duress, the procurators typically threaten to send them back to shuanggui. Judges commonly reject detainee objections in court on the grounds that shuanggui and its practices are outside of the scope of the judicial system.

“In shuanggui corruption cases, the courts function as rubber stamps, lending credibility to an utterly illegal Communist Party process,” Richardson said. “Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.”

The shuanggui system has been a highly effective tool for Communist Party investigators: once they obtain a confession, there is little suspects can do to exonerate themselves. Acquittals are extremely rare, and, except in cases of detainee deaths, few investigators face punishments for abuses. Some interviewees told Human Rights Watch that those who tormented them and their families were promoted for their “effectiveness” in handling corruption cases.

China has a serious problem with corruption, but successfully combating it requires an independent judicial system, a free media, and robust protections for the rights of suspects, Human Rights Watch said. A crucial step is the abolition of shuanggui.

“Eradicating corruption won’t be possible so long as the shuanggui system exists,” Richardson said. “Every day this system threatens the lives of party members and underscores the abuses inherent in President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.”
 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, September 4, 2015) – The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.

Video

Act 1 of the Hissène Habré Trial

The long-awaited trial of Hissène Habré, was adjourned almost as soon as it was opened, as an outburst from the former dictator of Chad caused a scene in the courtroom.

When the landmark trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system formally opened on July 20, Habré had to be removed from court after an outburst. Habré’s lawyers then refused to appear and the trial was adjourned, giving new court-appointed lawyers time to study the case.  

“After 25 years of campaigning and 45 days waiting patiently, the survivors will finally get their day in court,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “Hissène Habré may try to create more disturbances, but he does not get a veto on whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice.”

Habré has refused to communicate with the court-appointed lawyers, and it is expected that he will try to have them taken off the case. The president of the court, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has made clear, however, that in keeping with Senegalese law and international practice, the lawyers are needed to safeguard the rights of the accused and the integrity of the proceedings.

Habre is accused of tens of thousands of political killings as well as systematic torture during his rule, from 1982 to 1990. The trial is the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré is standing trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Kam, of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last two months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

“If I get a chance to look Hissène Habré in the face, I will do it without fear,” said Fatimé Sakine, 53, a secretary who was subjected to electroshocks and beatings during 15 months in prison from 1984 to 1986 and who is in Dakar for the trial. “I want to know why we were kept rotting, why so many of my friends were tortured and killed.”

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. “It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors have shown that it was possible to bring their dictator to justice.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, July 17, 2015) – The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial began in Senegal on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.  

Video

Hissène Habré Finally Facing Justice

The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial will begin on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.

 
“The opening of Hissène Habré’s trial, 25 years after he fled Chad, is a tribute to the survivors of his brutal rule who never gave up fighting for justice,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “This case warns despots everywhere that if they engage in atrocities they will never be out of the reach of their victims.”

Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. The trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

 
Habré will stand trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last three months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

Habré, through his lawyers, has said that he does not want to appear in court. Under Senegalese law, however, the court president can require his appearance. 

“I have been waiting for this day since I walked out of prison almost 25 years ago, “ said Souleymane Guengueng, who nearly died of mistreatment and disease in Habré’s prisons, and later founded the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH). “I want to look Hissène Habré in the face and ask him why I was kept rotting in jail for three years, why my friends were tortured and killed.”

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture. After he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, in 1990, Habré fled to Senegal. Habré was first arrested in Senegal in February 2000, but Senegal refused to prosecute him then or to extradite him to Belgium in 2005. It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice, acting on a suit by Belgium, ordered Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré that progress was made toward the trial with the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers. The chambers indicted Habré in July 2013 and placed him in pretrial custody. After a 19-month investigation, judges of the chambers found that there was sufficient evidence for Habré to face trial.

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. "It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors showed that even a dictator can be brought to justice." 

On March 25, a court in Chad convicted 20 top security agents of Habré’s government on torture and murder charges. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min briefs the media at a government complex in downtown Seoul, South Korea on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. South Korea says it has deported 2 North Koreans after finding they had killed 16 fellow fishermen onboard and fled to South Korea.

© 2019 Kim Seung-doo/Yonhap via AP
(Seoul) – The South Korean government deported two North Korean fishermen on November 7, 2019 to face murder charges in North Korea, where they face likely torture, Human Rights Watch said today.

On November 2, the South Korean navy intercepted a North Korean fishing vessel after a two-day pursuit, and brought the two North Koreans piloting the boat ashore. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said that the government conducted an inter-departmental investigation and determined that the two men, in their 20s, had killed 16 other crew members while squid fishing in the East Sea. After contacting North Korean authorities on November 5, South Korean authorities deported the two men to North Korea on November 7.

“Returning these two men to North Korea was illegal under international law because of the likelihood they’ll be tortured under North Korea’s extremely brutal legal system,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “South Korean authorities should have thoroughly investigated the allegations against the two men and ensured they had a full opportunity to contest their being returned to North Korea.”

A Unification Ministry spokesman, Lee Sang-min, said the South Korean government decided to expel the two fishermen because they were “non-political, serious criminals who did not receive protection under the Act on the Protection and Settlement Assistance for Residents Escaping from North Korea (Settlement Act), [and] could pose a threat to the lives and safety of our people if accepted into our society, and as brutal criminals could not be recognized as refugees under international laws.”

The South Korean government has not released detailed information about how it reached these determinations, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should explain its investigation of the case, the evidence it collected, and whether the suspects had access to legal representation who had the time and opportunity to present their case before an impartial authority. The government should also explain its basis for concluding that the two would not face torture or other ill-treatment if returned to North Korea.

South Korean authorities could have prosecuted the two men for their alleged criminal acts, since under article 3 of the country’s constitution, domestic law extends to the entire Korean peninsula.

While international refugee law excludes from refugee status individuals who committed serious non-political crimes outside the receiving country, human rights law prohibits returning anyone to a country where they would be at substantial risk of being tortured, whether they are a refugee or not.

South Korea is a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Article 3 provides that, “No State Party shall expel, return (refouler) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which South Korea has also ratified, stated in a general comment that governments “must not expose individuals to the danger of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment upon return to another country by way of their extradition, expulsion or refoulement.”

South Korea’s constitution in article 6 makes international agreements binding law and provides non-citizens with rights under international law. In addition, South Korea’s Refugee Act in article 3 prohibits refoulement of “refugee status applicants,” and article 2(3) provides that a person unrecognized as a refugee may still obtain permission to stay in South Korea on humanitarian grounds if “there are reasonable grounds to believe that his/her life or personal liberty may be egregiously violated by torture or other inhuman treatment or punishment or other circumstances.”

The South Korean government should investigate this incident and hold accountable officials who violated the basic human rights of the two fishermen, Human Rights Watch said. It should take corrective action to ensure that the right not to be returned to torture and other ill-treatment is scrupulously respected in the future.

A 2014 report by the UN Commission of Inquiry found that the North Korean government has committed crimes against humanity against people who were forcibly repatriated, with inhumane acts like torture, murder, imprisonment, deliberate starvation, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances. It also found lack of due process in its criminal justice system, in which judges lack independence and impartiality, and there is an effective presumption of guilt, not innocence.

“The South Korean government has violated international law meant to protect everyone from torture worldwide, and put these men at grave risk in North Korea,” Robertson said. “South Korean authorities need to take immediate action to ensure that nothing like this happens again.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Summary

“With young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power, he promised an embrace of social and economic reform. He spoke of making our country more open and tolerant and promised that he would address the things that hold back our progress, such as the ban on women driving. But all I see now is the recent wave of arrests.”

-Jamal Khashoggi, 2017

On January 23, 2015, Saudi Arabia’s 90-year-old King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud died following a protracted illness. The country faced a deteriorating economy that was overly reliant on high oil prices and unable to meet the employment and livelihood demands of Saudi Arabia’s growing youth population. King Abdullah’s successor, Salman bin Abdulaziz, a half-brother, immediately set out to address the country’s economic plight, appointing his then 29-year-old son Mohammed as the head of the newly established Council of Economic and Development Affairs and the Minister of Defense.

Mohammed bin Salman (known by his initials MBS), a relatively unknown and junior prince prior to his father’s accession to the throne, quickly became the face of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to reform the country’s economy. In April 2016 he launched Vision 2030, an ambitious government road map for economic and developmental growth that aims to reduce the country’s dependence on oil.

The following year, in June 2017, King Salman elevated his son to crown prince, making him next in line to the Saudi throne and de facto day-to-day ruler of the country. Positive changes for women and youth, combined with a major push for foreign direct investment into the world’s largest oil producing country and lavishly funded public relations efforts helped to bolster a positive image for the crown prince on the international political scene. During visits to the United Kingdom and United States in March 2018, Prince Mohammed was lauded by officials, businesspeople, and celebrities alike.

Behind the glamor and pomp of Prince Mohammed’s newfound fame abroad and advancements for Saudi women and youth, however, lay a darker reality, as the Saudi authorities moved to sideline anyone in Saudi Arabia who could stand in the way of his political ascension. In the summer of 2017, around the time of his promotion to crown prince, authorities purged former security and intelligence officials and quietly reorganized the country’s prosecution service and security apparatus, the primary tools of Saudi repression, and placed them directly under the royal court’s oversight. With the security apparatus completely under royal court control, the authorities then launched a series of arrest campaigns, targeting dozens of critics and potential critics of Saudi government policies. These arrest waves targeted prominent clerics, public intellectuals, academics, and human rights activists in September 2017, leading businesspeople and royal family members accused of corruption in November 2017, and the country’s most prominent women’s rights advocates beginning in May 2018. The arrests waves were often accompanied by defamation and slander of those arrested in the country’s progovernment media.

Detaining citizens for peaceful criticism of the government’s policies or human rights advocacy is not a new phenomenon in Saudi Arabia, but what has made the post-2017 arrest waves notable and different, however, is the sheer number and range of individuals targeted over a short period of time as well as the introduction of new repressive practices not seen under previous Saudi leadership.

These new tactics include cases of holding detainees at unofficial places of detention, such as the detention of so-called corruption detainees at the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh from late 2017 into early 2018, as well as the detention of prominent women’s rights activists at a “hotel” or “guesthouse” during the summer of 2018. While in unofficial detention centers, allegations have emerged that torture and mistreatment of detainees were rampant. For example, in March 12, 2018 the New York Times reported that 17 Ritz-Carlton detainees required hospitalization for physical abuse, including one man who later died in custody. In addition, in late 2018 Human Rights Watch received credible information from informed sources that authorities had tortured four prominent Saudi women activists while in an unofficial detention center, including by administering electric shocks, whipping the women on their thighs, forcible hugging and kissing, and groping.

Abusive practices also have included long-term arbitrary detention – over two years – without charge, trial, or any clear legal process. For example, some of the so-called corruption detainees arrested in late 2017 remain at this writing in detention without charge or trial, including Turki bin Abdullah, the son of the late King Abdullah and former governor of Riyadh, Adel al-Fakih, a former minister, and Bakr Binladin, a construction mogul.

 

Mass Arrests and Detention after Mohammed bin Salman becomes Crown Prince

A Timeline of Repression

June 2017

Mohammed bin Salman becomes Crown Prince

June-August 2017

Reorganization of security agencies – creation of Public Prosecution and State Security Presidency as an independent agencies under the royal court 

September 2017

Mass Arrests of Clerics, Academics, Intellectuals

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 70 people detained or arrested, including:

salman-al-awda

Salman al-Awda
Cleric, on trial for alleged Muslim Brotherhood membership facing death penalty

essam-al-zamil

Essam al-Zamil
Economist, on trial for alleged Muslim Brotherhood membership

hassan-farhan-al-maliki

Hassan Farhan al-Maliki
Religious thinker, on trial for religious ideas facing death penalty

October 2017

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 8 people detained or arrested

November 2017

Corruption Arrests, Detainees Held in Ritz Carlton

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 40 people detained or arrested, including:

al-waleed-bin-talal

Alwaleed bin Talal
Businessman, released after turning over assets

mutaib-bin-abdullah

Miteb bin Abdullah
Former minister, released after turning over assets

turki-bin-abdullah

Turki bin Abdullah
Former Riyah governor, in detention without charge or trial

January 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 2 people detained or arrested

March 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 5 people detained or arrested

April 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 3 people detained or arrested

May 2018

Arrests of Women’s Rights Advocates

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 16 people detained or arrested, including:

lujain-al-hathloul

Loujain al-Hathloul
Human rights activist, jailed and on trial for her activism, including:

aziza-al-youssef

Aziza Yousef
Human rights activist, on trial for her activism

eman-al-nafjan

Eman al-Nafjan
Human rights activist, on trial for her activism

June 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 7 people detained or arrested

July 2018

Further Arrests of Women’s Rights Advocates

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 13 people detained or arrested

samar-badawi

Samar Badawi
Human rights activist, jailed and on trial for her activism

nassima-al-sadah

Nassima al-Sadah
Human rights activist, jailed and on trial for her activism

August 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 7 people detained or arrested

September 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 5 people detained or arrested

October 2018

Murder of Jamal Khashoggi

November 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 11 people detained or arrested

December 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 1 person detained or arrested

March 2019

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 1 person detained or arrested

April 2019

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 13 people detained or arrested

May 2019

Arrests of Writers

salah-al-haidar

Salah al-Haidar
Writer and activist

June 2019

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 1 person detained or arrested

October 2019

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 4 people detained or arrested

Authorities also targeted family members of prominent Saudi dissidents and activists, including by imposing arbitrary travel bans. Omar Abdulaziz, a Canada-based Saudi dissident, said that Saudi authorities detained his two brothers in August 2018 in an effort to silence his online activism.

Other abusive practices have included extorting financial assets of detainees in exchange for their release outside of any legal process and seeking the death penalty against detainees for acts that do not resemble recognizable crimes. For example, Saudi prosecutors are currently seeking the death penalty against reformist religious thinker Hassan Farhan al-Maliki on vague charges relating to the expression of his peaceful religious ideas, as well as against the widely known cleric Salman al-Awda on charges stemming solely from his peaceful political statements, associations, and positions. Both men were detained during the September 2017 crackdown.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly used commercially available surveillance technologies to hack into the online accounts of government critics and dissidents. Citizen Lab, an academic research center based in Canada, concluded with “high confidence” that in 2018 a Saudi activist’s mobile phone was infected with spyware, and other activists have announced that they were targeted with the same spyware.

Mohammed bin Salman, who was appointed defense minister in January 2015, has also ultimate responsibility for Saudi Arabia’s abusive tactics in its four-year-old military intervention in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition which has been conducting military operations against Houthi forces in Yemen, has imposed an aerial and naval blockade and restricted the flow of life-saving goods, exacerbating an existing humanitarian crisis. Saudi-led coalition aircraft have carried out apparently unlawful attacks that hit Yemeni markets, hospitals, schools, funerals, and even a school bus filled with children.

The repressive side of MBS’s domestic record, however, was not given the international scrutiny it deserved until October 2018, when the violent murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate shocked global opinion and led to a broader examination of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

There was massive global media coverage of Khashoggi’s death, especially as it became clear that Saudi state agents perpetrated his murder. This was accompanied by unprecedented condemnation of Saudi abuses. Dozens of business leaders and officials pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative Forum, otherwise known as “Davos in the desert,” which took place in Riyadh in late October 2018. On November 15, 2018, the United States imposed sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on 17 Saudis in connection with their alleged role in the murder.

Countries and world leaders also called attention to the continuing arbitrary detention of public dissidents and activists, particularly detained women’s rights advocates. On February 14, 2019, for example, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release “women’s rights defenders and all human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and other prisoners of conscience detained and sentenced merely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and for their peaceful human rights work.” The resolution also called for an EU-wide ban on export of surveillance systems, reiterated that arms sales to Saudi Arabia contravene the EU’s common position on arms exports, and called for “restricted measures against Saudi Arabia in response to breaches of human rights, including asset freezes and visa bans.”

On March 7, 2019, 36 countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council issued the first ever joint statement on Saudi human rights abuses, calling on Saudi Arabia “to release all individuals, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Nassima al-Sadah, Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon al-Fassi, Mohammed AlBajadi, Amal Al-Harbi, and Shadan al-Anezi, detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”

In February 2019, a bipartisan group of US Congressional representatives led by Congresswoman Lois Frankel issued a resolution calling on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release jailed Saudi women’s rights activists and hold those responsible for abuses accountable. A bipartisan group of US Senators led by Senator Marco Rubio introduced a similar resolution in the US Senate. Other congressional bills and resolutions pushing for Saudi government accountability for the Khashoggi murder remain under consideration at the time of writing.

Despite this global condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s escalating domestic repression, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has continued to enjoy the unwavering support of several key world leaders, including US President Donald Trump. On November 6, 2017, following Saudi Arabia’s “corruption” arrests, Trump tweeted his support, writing, “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing.... ...Some of those they are harshly treating have been “milking” their country for years!” On November 20, 2018, during a period of widespread criticism over the Khashoggi murder, the Trump administration issued a statement that began with the phrase “[t]he world a dangerous place!” and referred to Jamal Khashoggi as an “enemy of the state” and member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The statement went on to argue that the US should continue its arms sales to Saudi Arabia because cancelling them would mean that “Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries.”

In mid-2019, while dozens of dissidents remained on trial and in prison, and with no clear accountability for allegations of torture of detainees or the murder of Khashoggi, Saudi authorities resumed efforts to improve the country’s reputation and shift the international narrative away from the Khashoggi murder, in part by announcing major women’s rights reforms. In June 2018, just weeks after the detentions of the country’s leading women’s rights advocates, Saudi authorities lifted the ban on women driving. In late July 2019, Saudi Arabia announced that Saudi women over 21 will be able to obtain passports without the approval of a male relative, register births of their children, and benefit from new protections against employment discrimination. In early August, Saudi Arabia announced further changes to regulations allowing women over 21 to travel abroad freely without permission of a male guardian. 

Despite major advances for women, ongoing arbitrary and abusive practices against dissidents and activists since mid-2017 and total lack of accountability demonstrate that the rule of law in Saudi Arabia remains weak and can be undermined at will by the country’s political leadership. It remains a criminal offense under the Saudi Arabia’s 2017 counterterrorism law to criticize the king or crown prince “in a manner that brings religion or justice into disrepute” punishable by five to ten years in prison.

In order to demonstrate that Saudi Arabia is truly reforming, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should introduce new reforms to ensure that Saudi citizens enjoy basic human rights, including freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, as well as an independent judiciary and due process of law. The authorities can signal this commitment immediately by releasing from detention all detainees detained arbitrarily or on charges based solely on their peaceful ideas or expression, dropping all charges that do not resemble recognizable crimes against dissidents on trial, and providing accountability for perpetrators of abuses such as torture or arbitrary punishments.

Recommendations

To the Government of Saudi Arabia

  • Immediately release all prisoners held solely for their peaceful practice of their rights to free expression and association, including prisoners convicted of alleged crimes, prisoners currently on trial, and prisoners held arbitrarily;
  • Investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by an independent body and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable and survivors are provided with redress;
  • Allow international monitors to enter the country and grant them unfettered access to detainees;
  • Publicize all information about the ongoing trial of 11 individuals accused of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and implement recommendations by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary killings in her June 2019 report;
  • Halt all acts of intimidation, harassment, and smear campaigns against rights activists and their family members, including those carried out by individuals invested with or claiming religious authority;
  • Halt the imposition of arbitrary travel bans without justification or notification and enact changes to the Travel Documents Law ensuring that travel bans handed down by the Ministry of Interior can be challenged in court;
  • Promulgate a penal code that clearly defines acts that give rise to criminal responsibility in line with international human rights standards. The penal code should also criminalize use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment;
  • Rescind article 6 of the Information Crimes Law of 2007, which is regularly used to imprison dissidents for peaceful criticism;
  • Repeal vague provisions of the 2017 Law on Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing used to unlawfully limit freedom of expression, including article 30, as well as provisions that allow for indefinite detention of suspects and temporary incommunicado detention;
  • Permit detainees to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court, ensure all detainees are brought promptly before a court to review the legality and necessity of their detention, to guarantee access to legal counsel in a timely manner, and to make statements obtained under duress or torture inadmissible in court;
  • Promptly, and prior to interrogation, allow a detainee to communicate with legal counsel of his or her choice, and inform him or her of this right at police stations, Mabahith offices, and other custodial settings of law enforcement agencies in compliance with the Law of Criminal Procedure;
  • Videotape all interrogations and promptly make the full content of those tapes available to the detainee and his or her counsel;
  • Halt practices requiring a detainee to pledge to abstain from certain acts or perform certain acts as a condition of release, unless such a pledge is part of a formal, judicially sanctioned agreement and does not in any way inhibit the exercise of the detainee’s human rights.

To Saudi Arabia’s Key Allies

  • Sanction Saudi officials at the highest levels who played a role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi or committed acts of torture;
  • Restrict export licenses of surveillance technologies to Saudi Arabia.
  • Heavily scrutinize weapons transfers that could be used to limit basic rights such as freedom of assembly;
  • Advocate for the release of dissidents and activists detained solely for peaceful criticism of Saudi authorities.

To Technology Companies

  • Halt sales of surveillance technologies to Saudi Arabia and halt existing contracts providing for ongoing training and technical support to ensure that these activities do not contribute to human rights violations;
  • Provide transparency around past sales of surveillance technologies to Saudi Arabia;
  • Investigate whether surveillance technologies sold to Saudi Arabia were used to spy on dissidents at home and abroad in violation of their terms of service and applicable human rights standards;
  • Advocate for the release of dissidents and activists detained solely for peaceful criticism of Saudi authorities.
Video

Saudi Arabia: Change Comes with Punishing Cost

Arrests, Torture, Murder Accompany Reforms

Methodology

Saudi authorities have not granted Human Rights Watch access to freely conduct in-country research since a research mission to the country in 2006. Human Rights Watch staff have visited Saudi Arabia six times since 2006, but most of these visits remained tightly circumscribed.

The report is based on telephone interviews with Saudi activists and dissidents since 2017, government statements, and court documents, as well as exhaustive reviews of Saudi local media outlets and social media. To protect those we interviewed from retaliation, we have withheld names or used pseudonyms for interviewees, unless they indicated a willingness to be named. Researchers informed all interviewees of the purpose of the interview and the ways in which the data would be used, and none of the interviewees received financial or other incentives for speaking with Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch compiled lists of detainees in Chapter IV from available evidence including interviews with Saudi human rights activists, official statements, and media reports. The lists are not exhaustive. Unless otherwise indicated, the latest available information indicates that individuals listed remain in detention.

On October 21, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Saudi government outlining the general conclusions of our research. As of early November, Saudi authorities had not replied to Human Rights Watch.

I. Saudi Arabia Under New Leadership

Since the establishment of the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 the country has been ruled as an absolute monarchy, first by its founder Abdulaziz Al Saud and then, following his death, by a succession of his sons. While maintaining absolute power over decision making, Saudi leaders historically exercised power in dialogue with informal yet powerful interest groups which maintained the ability to influence decisions. These groups included the country’s conservative Sunni religious establishment of state-affiliated and independent clerics, other members of the royal family, the security services, and influential members of the Saudi business community.[1]

The emergence of Mohammed bin Salman in early 2015 began to alter the status quo. Authorities moved to systematically curtail the influence of these groups and their ability to dictate decisions. In April 2016, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers removed the powers of arrest from the country’s abusive religious police. In late 2017, as part of a sweeping crackdown on Saudi dissidents, authorities arrested prominent independent clerics critical of government policies.[2] In late 2017, authorities also rounded up tens of prominent members of the royal family, current and former government officials, and members of the business community as a part of a campaign against corruption.[3]

Beyond arrests, following his appointment as crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman and his father also meticulously moved to restructure the country’s traditional tools of repression, the internal security forces and the prosecution service, removing them from the jurisdiction of the interior ministry and placing them directly under the king, giving the royal court sole oversight over the agencies that conduct arrests and prosecutions.[4] Since his appointment as defense minister in 2015, Mohammed bin Salman has maintained control of the Saudi military. In November 2017 King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman removed control of the Saudi National Guard, an independent military force, from the late King Abdullah’s son Mutaib and jailed him for alleged corruption, effectively bringing all branches of the Saudi armed forces under royal court control.[5]

When confronted in an interview with Bloomberg in October 2018 about Saudi Arabia’s mass arrests, Mohammed bin Salman justified them as necessary for enacting reforms in Saudi Arabia, stating:

… I believe that a lot of movements that happen around the world, they happen with a price. So for example if you look at the United States of America, when for example they wanted to free the slaves. What was the price? Civil war. It divided America for a few years. Thousands, tens of thousands of people died to win the freedom for the slaves…. So if there is a small price in that area, it’s better than paying a big debt to do that move…[6]

Consolidation of Power and Restructuring the Security Apparatus

When Salman bin Abdulaziz acceded to the Saudi throne in January 2015, Prince Mohammed, the first son from his third marriage, was a relative unknown. Unlike some of his older brothers, who included Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab and Muslim ever to fly in outer space, or Abdulaziz bin Salman, a major figure in Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, Prince Mohammed did not have a significant public profile prior to 2015 nor had he studied outside the country like many prominent royal family members.[7] Rather, he had quietly served his father, primarily as an advisor to Salman while he was Minister of Defense and governor of Riyadh. According to Karen Elliott House, Prince Mohammed became close to his father by remaining by his side while he grieved the deaths of his eldest and third eldest sons in 2001 and 2002 respectively, both from heart disease.[8]

Mohammed bin Salman burst onto the international arena in January 2015 when his father, immediately after becoming king, appointed him defense minister (Salman’s former position).[9] As defense minister he quickly established himself as less cautious than his predecessors, facilitating the launch of major military operations in Yemen in March 2015 by a coalition of countries. The military campaign aimed to roll back the advances of the Ansar Allah militant group (known as the Houthis), a Zaydi Shia group which had taken over most of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, and expelled the country’s internationally-recognized government headed by President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

When King Salman took the throne, he promoted Mohammed bin Nayef, Mohammed bin Salman’s cousin and former interior minister who successfully led Saudi Arabia’s counter-insurgency efforts after 2004, as deputy crown prince behind Crown Prince Muqrin, who is Mohammed bin Salman’s uncle. Within three months, however, King Salman altered the line of succession, sacking Muqrin and elevating Mohammed bin Nayef to crown prince and Mohammed bin Salman to deputy crown prince.[10]

Between April 2015 and June 2017, the division of power between Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Nayef was clear, with Mohammed bin Salman in control of the country’s economy and military, and Mohammed bin Nayef in control of domestic security affairs.

On June 17, 2017, however, the first major crack in the fragile arrangement appeared when King Salman issued a royal decree removing Othman al-Muhrij from his position as director of the country’s Public Security Directorate (police), a major agency within the Interior Ministry.[11] The same day, he also issued a royal decree severing the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) from the Interior Ministry and re-establishing it as the Public Prosecution, an “independent” entity reporting directly to the king and headed by a new head prosecution official called the Attorney General. The royal decree stated that the change was “in [accordance] with the rules and principles of many countries of the world,” and based on “the necessity of separation between executive authority in the state and the bureau and its work since it is part of the judicial authority.”[12]

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The Saudi prosecution service is a major tool of Saudi repression and has been used to terrorize peaceful Saudi dissidents since 1988 through various means, including harassment, endless summonses for interrogation, arbitrary detention, and prosecution in blatantly unfair trials on spurious charges.[13] These practices accelerated and increased following the 2017 reorganization.

On June 21, within days of removing the prosecution service from Mohammed bin Nayef’s control, King Salman acted decisively by stripping him of all his official positions and appointing his son Mohammed bin Salman crown prince and presumptive future king.[14] To secure his elevation, Mohammed bin Salman reportedly garnered all but 3 votes in the country’s allegiance council, which decides on succession issues and is made up of 34 royal family members who are sons or represent the families of sons of Saudi Arabia’s founding King Abdulaziz.[15]

Citing US intelligence officials, the New York Times reported on June 28, 2017 that Mohammed bin Nayef had not only been deposed but also placed under house arrest at his Jeddah palace and prevented from leaving the country.[16] An informed source told Human Rights Watch that in addition to placing Mohammed bin Nayef under house arrest, authorities also purged many officials loyal to him from the security apparatus, including by detaining two high-level Interior Ministry officials. Another security official close to Mohammed bin Nayef who served as Saudi Arabia’s liaison to western intelligence agencies fled the country.[17] The source said that authorities banned immediate family members of Mohammed bin Nayef and these officials from travel and froze their bank accounts and assets.[18] The sidelining of Mohammed bin Nayef and his loyalists effectively removed the most serious royal challenger to Mohammed bin Salman.

For the remainder of 2017, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed moved against other individuals who could potentially curb their power, culminating in the establishment of an anticorruption committee headed by the crown prince which carried out so-called corruption arrests on November 4, 2017, when powerful figures within the royal family and influential Saudis such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a prominent businessman, Abdulaziz bin Fahd, a former cabinet member, Turki bin Abdullah, a former governor of Riyadh, Fahd bin Abdullah, a former defense minister, and Mutaib bin Abdullah, then-Minister of National Guard, and at least nine other princes were detained, stripped of their positions, and forced to hand over financial assets in exchange for their freedom.[19] The so-called corruption arrests appeared to especially target the sons of the late King Abdullah. Some royal detainees, including Turki bin Abdullah, remain in detention without charge at the time of writing.

In order to cement his position as crown prince, beginning in mid-2017 King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed sought to overhaul the security infrastructure of the state and effectively downgrade the previously powerful role of interior minister.

In addition to placing the prosecution service under the purview of the royal court, King Salman also created a new agency, the Presidency of State Security, which absorbed the intelligence and counterterrorism functions formerly held by the Interior Ministry. The new agency contains the General Directorate of Investigation (known as Mabahith, the notorious domestic security agency) as well as Saudi Arabia’s special counterterrorism forces, which is headed by longtime Interior Ministry official Abdulaziz bin Mohammed al-Howairini. Commenting on the change, Arab News said, “…after the rise of the terror threat [in the early 2000s], the Interior Ministry concentrated much of its efforts on fighting this scourge. This led to the addition of a large number of responsibilities, which affected the ministry’s other services such as police, traffic and the passport department.”[20]

Following the reduction of responsibilities of the Interior Ministry, King Salman appointed a new minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud, then 34, a relative of Mohammed bin Salman and son of the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.[21] The appointment of Prince Abdulaziz kept the interior minister portfolio with the Nayef faction of the royal family, which has held the position nearly continuously since 1975, but the prestige and power of the position had been drastically reduced.

The centralization of power also extended to the military, whereby in November 2017 King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman removed control of the Saudi National Guard, an independent military force, from the late King Abdullah’s son Mutaib and jailed him for alleged corruption, effectively bringing all branches of the Saudi armed forces under the control of the royal court.[22]

Since his appointment as crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman has chaired both of the Saudi Council of Ministers’ subcommittees, putting him in charge of both economic affairs as well as political and security affairs.

A Plan to Transform the Economy

Mohammed bin Salman’s consolidation of power and mass arrests, which he labelled a “small price” in comparison with other “movements around the world,” allowed him to propose his own solutions to Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning economic crisis without hinderance or obstruction from Saudi Arabia’s traditional interest groups.

When King Abdullah died in January 2015, the country faced a major economic crisis as global oil prices were plummeting from a high of US$115 per barrel in June 2014 to $35 per barrel in February 2016, wiping out 77 to 88 percent of the country’s income.[23] In September 2014, the International Monetary Fund warned that without cuts to government spending Saudi Arabia would face a budget deficit in 2015 and the prospect of spending down its cash reserves.[24] The IMF’s prediction proved accurate – in late 2015 Saudi Arabia announced a budget deficit of 367 billion riyals ($97.9 billion).[25] Furthermore, despite years of policies aimed at overhauling the Saudi private sector to ensure more employment opportunities for Saudi citizens as opposed to foreign migrant workers, the Saudi youth unemployment rate in 2014 and 2015 remained around 30 percent, a worrying statistic given that two thirds of the Saudi population is under 30 years old.[26] In late 2015 a Brookings Institution op-ed warned that Saudi Arabia “faces an economic time bomb, which, if not defused, will have severe and possibly irreversible effects both nationally and internationally.”[27]

Following his appointment by his father to head the economic council, Prince Mohammed bin Salman quickly became the face of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to counter its economic woes and overhaul the country’s economy to make it less susceptible to oil price fluctuations. By early 2016, in response to a question from the Economist on whether Saudi Arabia was facing an economic crisis, Prince Mohammed stated as follows:

We’re too far from it. We are further than the ’80s and the ’90s. We have the third-largest reserve in the world. We were able to increase our non-oil revenues this year alone by 29%. We were able to come out with more positive things than what most people thought about the economy of Saudi Arabia, regarding deficit and regarding spending. And we have clear programmes over the next five years. We announced some of them, and the rest we will announce in the near future.[28]

In April 2016, Mohammad bin Salman made good on his promise by announcing the country’s signature economic reform plan, Vision 2030, a sweeping development program aimed at diversifying the economy and creating a “global investment powerhouse.”[29] The plan lays out major strategic objectives for economic and social change accompanied by a host of programs to address issues such as housing, quality of life, pubic investment, financial sector development, and improving government performance, each with specified objectives and five-year milestones.[30]

Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has also invested heavily in creating a local entertainment industry. In May 2016, authorities created the General Entertainment Authority, a new agency with plans to invest billions of dollars in the areas of music, entertainment, sports, art, and film, among others.[31] In 2018, authorities allowed movie theaters to open, with AMC, the US movie theatre chain, opening the first movie theater in Saudi Arabia in 35 years in Riyadh. In 2019 Saudi Arabia announced plans to invest $35 billion into building 2,500 movie screens across the country by 2020.[32] At the time of writing Saudi Arabia had hosted concerts major international artists such as Mariah Carey, Yanni, Andrea Bocelli, Janet Jackson, and 50 Cent.[33] The establishment of an entertainment industry has also provoked controversies, however, with the country’s Grand Mufti denouncing public entertainment and movie theaters in early 2017, the sacking of the General Entertainment Authority’s chairman in June 2018 following a controversial Russian circus performance in Riyadh featuring women wearing tight clothing, and rapper Nicki Minaj pulling out of the July 2019 Jeddah World Fest following pressure from human rights  groups.[34]

The signature piece of Prince Mohammed’s economic overhaul plan is to generate revenue through an initial public offering (IPO) of a limited percentage of the country’s massive state oil company, Saudi Aramco, on an international stock exchange. While New York, London, and Hong Kong were initially considered as venues for the IPO,  Reuters reported on October 29 that Saudi authorities would announce the start of the IPO in early November 2019 and float a one to two percent stake of the company on Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul stock exchange.[35]

Prince Mohammed’s efforts to attract international investment were temporarily hindered by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, with many international investors, financiers, and business leaders canceling their participation in Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative forum in late October 2018 as well as investors pulling their money out of the Saudi stock market.[36] By April 2019, however the Financial Times and the New York Times reported that many businesses had returned to invest in Saudi Arabia.[37] Nevertheless, whether Saudi Arabia can obtain enough capital through international investment to overhaul the country’s economy and meet the needs of Saudi Arabia’s rapidly growing society remains to be seen.

II. Due Process Violations

Saudi Arabia’s arrest campaigns since 2017 are notable for both the number of individuals targeted over a short period of time and the introduction of new ad hoc abusive practices that represent a significant deterioration in a country where the rule of law was already tenuous. These practices include the use of unofficial places of detention, extorting individuals to hand over assets or make statements in return for their release, and seeking the death penalty for “crimes” based on individuals’ peaceful speech and activities, among others.

Some of the ad hoc and abusive practices introduced since 2017 are associated with Mohammed bin Salman’s former advisor, Saud al-Qahtani, whom King Salman fired in October 2018 for his alleged role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.[38] Citing US intelligence sources, the New York Times reported that the crown prince authorized a secret campaign against Saudi dissidents over a year before Khashoggi’s murder, empowering his then-advisor, al-Qahtani, to oversee a team dubbed the “Rapid Intervention Group,” which conducted at least a dozen operations prior to the targeting of Khashoggi in October 2018.[39] One of the operations the report cites is the targeting of Saudi women’s rights activists, and the timeline of the group’s formation corresponds roughly with the beginning of the arrest campaigns in September 2017.[40] In mid-August 2017, just before the arrests began, al-Qahtani tweeted the following comment: “Do you think that I make things up with guidance? I am a trustworthy employee who carries out the orders of my masters the king and crown prince.”[41]

Despite a Public Prosecution statement alleging that al-Qahtani was involved in the Khashoggi affair, he is reportedly not one of the 11 individuals on trial for the murder, and the Wall Street Journal reported in February 2019 that al-Qahtani continues to serve as an informal advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.[42] In October 2019, Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom Khalid bin Bandar stated that al-Qahtani remains under investigation and “in his home,” but that “no concrete evidence” has emerged regarding his involvement in the murder.[43]

Long-term Arbitrary Detention without Charge

Saudi Arabia has a long, notorious record of holding criminal suspects without charge or trial for months and even years. In May 2018, for example, Human Rights Watch analyzed data from a public online Saudi Interior Ministry prisoner database, which revealed that authorities at that time had detained 2,305 people who are under investigation for more than six months without referring them to a judge, while 1,875 were detained for more than a year and 251 for over three years while under investigation.[44]

Saudi Arabia’s Law of Criminal Procedure provides that a person may be detained without charge for a maximum of five days, renewable up to six months by an order of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (now Public Prosecution). After six months, the law requires that a detainee “be directly transferred to the competent court or be released.”[45]

Despite Saudi law, however, many individuals targeted in arrest campaigns since 2017 were held up to a year without charge, and the legal status of others remains unclear, particularly among some of those arrested in the November 2017 “corruption” crackdown. Those who remain in detention without clear legal status at this writing include Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the former governor of Riyadh and son of the late King Abdullah; Prince Turki’s associate Faisal al-Jarba; Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman and his father, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Mohammad; a former planning minister, Adel al-Fakieh; and a construction mogul, Bakr Binladin.[46]

An informed source told Human Rights Watch that Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz and his father, both businessmen, have remained in detention without charge or trial since their arrests in January 2018. The source said that Prince Salman believes he was detained in retaliation for his advocacy on behalf of his detained family members after the November arrests. To the source’s knowledge, the authorities did not freeze Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz or his father’s assets or ask for financial settlements. They are in al-Ha’ir prison, south of Riyadh. Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz is married to a daughter of King Abdullah.[47]

Another informed source told Human Rights Watch that Faisal al-Jarba, a confidant of Prince Turki bin Abdullah, remains in detention without charge.[48] The Washington Post reported that in June, the Jordanian authorities had detained al-Jarba in Amman, where he had fled to seek safety, and eventually drove him to the Saudi border and handed him over to Saudi authorities. Prince Turki himself also remains in detention without charge, the source said.[49]

Authorities also detained and held a Saudi American medical doctor and popular television host, Walid al-Fitaihi, for 21 months without charge or trial. A family member told Human Rights Watch that authorities initially held al-Fitaihi in the Ritz-Carlton for two months before transferring him to al-Ha’ir prison south of Riyadh.[50] In late January 2019 the authorities transferred him again to Dhahban prison north of Jeddah. The family member said that in early March 2019 Saudi authorities raided the family’s home in Jeddah following a New York Times story alleging that al-Fitaihi was mistreated in detention.[51] He said that 15-16 men came to the house, bringing along al-Fitaihi himself wearing arm and leg shackles, and took all the computers and mobile phones in the house. The family member said he did not know why al-Fitaihi had been targeted for arrest. On August 1, 2019, Saudi authorities released al-Fitaihi pending the outcome of his trial.[52]

Those detained in the September 2017 arrest wave, including Salman al-Awda, Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, Ali al-Omari, and Awad al-Qarni, remained in detention without trial for nearly a year before authorities finally began to charge them and put them on trial in September 2018. Nevertheless, some trials have been marred by unexplained delays and postponements, including the trial of Salman al-Awda. Authorities took al-Awda to court for a scheduled hearing on July 28, 2019, but after waiting five hours the court abruptly postponed the hearing until November without explanation. Authorities then suddenly held a series of hearings in early October and scheduled the final hearing for October 10, but on October 10 they postponed the final hearing without explanation.[53]

Similarly, for Saudi women’s rights activists detained beginning in May 2018, authorities held them for 10 months before filing charges.[54] After three or four trial sessions in March and April, however, Saudi authorities do not appear to have convened any substantive hearings in their cases, for which there has been no explanation.[55] At the time of writing most of the women are free but banned from travel abroad pending the outcomes of their trials, but others, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdulaziz, and Nassima al-Sadah, remain in detention.

Extended detention without charge or trial or without an appearance before a judge is arbitrary and violates both Saudi law and international human rights standards.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that detention is arbitrary when the detaining authority fails to observe, wholly or in part, the norms related to the right to due process, including for a prompt hearing before a judge following the initial detention.[56] Principle 11 of the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment states that a detainee must be “given an effective opportunity to be heard promptly by a judicial or other authority,” and that a judicial or other authority should be empowered to review the decision to continue  detention.[57]

The Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 2009, also guarantees the right of anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge to be brought promptly before a judge or other officer of the law, and to have a trial within a reasonable time or be released. The charter says that, “Pre-trial detention shall in no case be the general rule.”[58]

Unofficial Places of Detention

In flagrant violation of Saudi law and international standards, Saudi authorities held some detainees in unofficial places of detention. The most high-profile incident was the detention of dozens of leading businesspeople, members of the royal family, and current and former government officials in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel between November 2017 and February 2018.[59] In January 2018, a spokesperson from Marriott, which owns the Ritz-Carlton brand, said, “The hotel is operating under the directive of local authorities and not as a traditional hotel for the time being.”[60]

In addition, Saudi women activists detained beginning in May 2018 say that most of their mistreatment took place at an unofficial detention facility they called a “hotel” between May and August, after which they were moved to Dhahban prison. One source indicated that the women were taken to a room called an “officer’s guesthouse,” but the location of this room is unclear.[61] A family member of Loujain al-Hathloul told the New York Times that the women were held in what appeared to be an unused palace in Jeddah.[62]

Holding detainees at unofficial detention centers violates international standards. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its general comment on article 7of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), stated that “…provisions should be made for detainees to be held in places officially recognized as places of detention and for their names and places of detention, as well as for the names of persons responsible for their detention, to be kept in registers readily available and accessible to those concerned, including relatives and friends.”[63]

Extorting Financial Assets or Public Statements in Return for Release

After detaining over 300 leading businesspeople, royal family members, and current and former government officials at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in November 2017, Saudi authorities reportedly pressured them to hand over assets to the state in return for their release outside of any clear or recognizable legal process.[64]

Many reportedly made deals. Alwaleed al-Ibrahim, for example, the head of the MBC Group, reportedly turned over the control of the company to Saudi authorities and was released in January 2018.[65] In March 2019, Reuters reported that Bakr Binladin and two of his brothers detained in the Ritz-Carlton were forced to sell a significant percentage of the Binladin Group construction company to Istidama, a subsidiary of the Saudi Finance Ministry, and all were removed from the restructured company’s board.[66] Authorities released prominent businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in January 2018 after he reached a financial settlement with Saudi authorities but remained in control of his company. He called his arrest a “misunderstanding.”[67] Likewise, authorities released prominent businessmen Amr Dabbagh and Mohammed al-Amoudi in January 2019 after they reportedly made deals, though the terms have not been made public.[68]

An informed source with close ties to six men held at the Ritz-Carlton between November 2017 and January 2018 told Human Rights Watch that authorities extorted financial settlements from detainees through physical coercion as well as freezing their bank accounts and banning their relatives from travel abroad. He said that some detainees were forced to transfer money held in bank accounts abroad into the country so that Saudi authorities could seize it, and that authorities only released some detainees after they signed IOUs pledging to pay specified sums of money.[69]

In addition to financial settlements, informed sources told Human Rights Watch that Saudi authorities also offered to release two prominent women’s rights activists in mid-2019 if they went on television to refute allegations that authorities had tortured them in detention. In August 2019, family members of Loujain al-Hathloul said that authorities had recently offered her release and an end to her trial if she signed a statement refuting the allegations of torture, which she initially agreed to do, but refused the offer after the authorities said she must make the statement on camera.[70] An informed source told Human Rights Watch that a high-level official with the Presidency of State Security visited another detained woman activist in July or August and offered to release her and provide financial compensation if she refuted the torture allegations on television.[71]

Arbitrary Travel Bans on Family Members

In addition to directly targeting Saudi citizens for arrest since September 2017, in some cases authorities have also punished their family members by imposing arbitrary bans on travel outside the country or freezing their assets and access to government services.

A family member of the detained cleric Salman al-Awda told Human Rights Watch that Saudi authorities imposed arbitrary travel bans on 17 members of his immediate family following the arrest. He said that the family only found out about the bans when another family member attempted to leave the country and was refused. He said the immigration officer told his family member that the royal court itself had imposed the travel bans for unspecified reasons.[72]

In addition, a family member of detained doctor Walid al-Fitaihi, who has US as well as Saudi nationality, told Human Rights Watch that following al-Fitaihi’s arrest Saudi authorities arbitrarily imposed travel bans on all members of al-Fitaihi’s immediate family, all of whom are also US citizens. He said that he went to the airport to attempt to travel out of the country several times in 2018 but was stopped each time after a fingerprint scan at the immigration checkpoint. Officials there did not give him an explanation for the ban.[73]

A source close to a former Saudi intelligence official purged alongside Mohammed bin Nayef told Human Rights Watch that Saudi authorities banned two of his children from travel abroad and froze all of their financial assets inside the country.[74] He also said that he has spoken with former detainees who were permitted to travel abroad but only on condition that they leave a close family member behind as collateral to ensure their  return.[75]

Saudi human rights activists told Human Rights Watch that authorities also imposed arbitrary travel bans on family members of prominent women’s rights activists following their detentions in May 2018.[76]

In arbitrarily imposing the travel bans on family members of detainees, the Ministry of Interior appears to have broken Saudi law. Aside from a judicial ruling by a court, the interior minister may impose bans “for defined reasons related to security and for a known period” and must notify those banned within one week of the ban.[77] For family members of detainees, in no case did the ministry inform those on whom they imposed travel bans of the bans themselves or the specific reasons for subjecting them to the bans.

Arbitrary travel bans violate international human rights law which guarantees everyone the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.[78]

Seeking the Death Penalty for Peaceful Political Affiliation and Ideas

Saudi Arabia carries out more executions per year than all but a few countries. Since 2014, Saudi Arabia has executed over 860 individuals, mostly for murder, violent acts, and nonviolent drug crimes.[79] Outside of those executed for drug crimes, capital trials involved accusations of acts of violence in nearly all cases. In 2018, however, Saudi prosecutors began seeking the death penalty against individuals solely based on their peaceful political affiliations or ideas.

Those currently facing capital trials absent any allegation of violence include the prominent cleric Salman al-Awda. In September 2018, local Saudi media outlets printed the first five of al-Awda’s charges, and Human Rights Watch reviewed the others from a copy of the court’s charge sheet it obtained.[80] The initial charges are mostly related to his alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and other organizations supposedly connected to it. One such organization listed in the charge sheet, the International Union of Muslim Scholars, was not named as a terrorist organization by Saudi authorities until November 20, 2018, over two months after al-Awda’s arrest.[81]

The first charge against al-Awda reads:

Corrupting the land by repeatedly endeavoring to shake the structure of the nation and bring about civil strife; inflaming society against the rulers and stirring up unrest; and connection to characters and organizations and holding meetings and conferences inside and outside the kingdom to enact the agenda of a terrorist organization against the nation and its rulers.[82]

Multiple charges relate to his public solidarity with imprisoned dissidents, opposing the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar in mid-2017, and alleged ties to the Qatari government. Other charges include having “a suspicious relationship” with the former Gaddafi government in Libya, publicly opposing Saudi Arabia’s hosting of former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, “mocking governmental achievements,” and “offending patriotism and loyalty to the government and the country…”[83]

Another detainee against whom Saudi authorities are seeking the death penalty is Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, a reformist religious thinker. Human Rights Watch reviewed al-Maliki’s charge sheet, which consists of 14 charges, nearly all with no resemblance to recognized crimes.[84] The first two charges relate to his peaceful expression of his religious opinions about the veracity of certain sayings of the prophet and his criticism of several seventh century Islamic figures. Other charges include “insulting the country’s rulers and the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars, and describing them as extremist,” and accusing Gulf countries of supporting the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).[85]

Prosecutors also charged al-Maliki with praising Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and “having sympathy” for the Houthi group in Yemen, and expressing his religious views in television interviews, attending discussion groups in Saudi Arabia, writing books and studies and publishing them outside of Saudi Arabia, possession of banned books, defaming a Kuwaiti man by accusing him on Twitter of supporting ISIS, and violating the country’s notorious cybercrime law.[86]

The charge sheet also accuses al-Maliki of crossing illegally from Saudi Arabia into northern Yemen for research about his family origins and history in 2001, after Saudi authorities had banned al-Maliki from travel abroad. Saudi Arabia does not have a comprehensive written penal code and only a limited number of written criminal regulations. Charges not based on a written text, which include all but one of al-Maliki’s, do not have a statute of limitation.[87]

Evidence cited by prosecutors in the charge sheet consisted entirely of al-Maliki’s alleged confession, his tweets, and material confiscated from his home and electronic devices. It says that he allegedly confessed to “calling for freedom of belief, and that it is the right of any person to adopt beliefs that he sees as correct, and it is not permitted to restrict these [beliefs] or impose certain beliefs,” as well as his denial that the crime of apostacy should be punishable by death, “seeing that there is no truth to it legally.” He also allegedly confessed to saying that “those [clerics] who ban singing or music in all its forms are extremists, as there is no evidence for banning it and that the prophet [peace be upon him] listened to it.”[88]

International standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances. In 2012, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions stated that where used, the death penalty should be limited to cases in which a person is intentionally killed and not used to punish drug-related offenses.

Cyber Spying and Online Harassment

In addition to the post-2017 arrest waves, Saudi Arabia has reportedly deployed commercially available surveillance technologies to hack into the online accounts of government critics and dissidents. Citizen Lab, an academic research center based in Canada, concluded with “high confidence” that in 2018 the mobile phone of Omar Abdulaziz, a prominent Saudi activists based in Canada, was targeted and infected with spyware known as Pegasus, which is produced and sold by the Israeli technology firm NSO group.[89] According to Citizen Lab, “Once a phone is infected [with Pegasus spyware], the customer has full access to a victim’s personal files, such as chats, emails, and photos. They can even surreptitiously use the phone’s microphones and cameras to view and eavesdrop on their targets.”[90]

In addition to Abdulaziz, other Saudis abroad have alleged that the Saudi government targeted them with cyberattacks using Pegasus in recent years, including an unnamed researcher for Amnesty International, UK-based Saudi human rights activist Yahya Assiri, and UK-based Saudi comedian and dissident Ghanim al-Masarir .[91]

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius revealed in March 2019 that Saudi officials acquired spyware tools from NSO Group, but that the company had “frozen new requests from the kingdom” over concerns that it may have been “misused.”[92] In response to growing international criticism over its sales of spyware to abusive governments, NSO group announced a new Human Rights Policy in September 2019, pledging to “identify, prevent and mitigate the risk of adverse human rights impact” related to the use of its spyware and surveillance products.[93]

Saudi officials have openly used Twitter to harass and target dissidents. On August 17, 2017, Saud al-Qahtani himself started the hashtag “#The_Black_List” in which he called on Saudis to suggest online critics to target.[94] Before his dismissal in October 2018, al-Qahtani also served as the director of the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security and Programming, a governmental organization that seeks to “build national and professional capabilities in the fields of cyber security and programming in line with established and internationally recognized practices and standards.”[95]

In addition, rumors have surfaced among Saudi dissidents that Saudi authorities may have the capability of unmasking anonymous Twitter users. The rumors appear driven in part by a Tweet by al-Qahtani from August 18, 2017, in which he states: “Does a pseudonym protect you from #the_black_list? No 1) States have a method to learn the owner of the pseudonym 2) the IP address can be learned using a number of methods 3) a secret I will not say.”[96]

More broadly, Saudi Arabia’s targeting of critics has been a growing problem, including online critics on Twitter, whom authorities have arrested or intimidated into silence.[97]

III. Torture Allegations

In addition to the mass arrest campaigns of dissidents since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince in June 2017, information from Saudi activists and media reports indicates that incidents of torture and mistreatment in detention have also increased.

In March 2019, the Guardian newspaper reported that it had received several leaked medical reports following examinations of at least 60 detainees commissioned by King Salman. The medical reports reportedly noted that detainees were suffering from ailments including “malnutrition, cuts, bruises and burns.”[98] Detainees examined included Adel Banaemah, Mohammed Al Bisher, Fahad al-Sunaidi, Zuhair Kutbi, Abdulaziz Fawzan al-Fawzan, Yasser al-Ayyaf, as well as prominent women’s rights activists Samar Badawi, Hatoon al-Fassi, and Abeer Namankani.[99]

The most high-profile allegations of torture and mistreatment that have come to light stem from the Ritz-Carlton detentions between November 2017 and February 2018 and the allegations of torture by women’s rights advocates from May to August 2018.

Alleged Torture of Women’s Rights Advocates

In November 2018, Human Rights Watch obtained credible evidence that Saudi authorities tortured at least four women activists in detention. The torture included electric shocks, whippings, waterboarding, and sexual harassment and assault including touching and groping.[100]

The treatment of prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul was described in detail by her sister in an article for the New York Times in January 2019. According to her sister, “[Loujain] said she had been held in solitary confinement, beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed and threatened with rape and murder. My parents then saw that her thighs were blackened by bruises.”[101] Other human rights groups have reported additional allegations, including prolonged solitary confinement of the women, displaying naked photographs of one of the women during interrogation, beatings on the feet (falaka or bastinado), and forcing two detainees to kiss each other on the lips.[102]

According to informed sources, the torture sessions took place at an unofficial detention facility called a “hotel” or “officer’s guesthouse” near Jeddah. The women were held there between May and August. One source told Human Rights Watch that the men responsible for mistreating the women were from “cyber security,” a probable reference to officers working under the authority of the former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, who was reportedly fired for his role in the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.[103] After transferring all the women to Dhahban Prison in August, sources stated that authorities would occasionally take women out of the prison for additional torture sessions at the unofficial detention facility.[104]

Around December 2018, following reporting of the allegations, authorities transferred some of the women to al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh, others to Dammam Prison in Dammam, while some remain in Dhahban Prison.[105] Western media outlets have reported that Saudi authorities opened two investigations into the torture allegations by women’s rights advocates, one by Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, a government agency, and one by Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecutor, which reports directly to the royal court.[106]

On March 1, 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution announced that it would refer the women to trial. A representative of the prosecution office denied the torture allegations, telling media that the allegations had been investigated by the Public Prosecution and Human Rights Commission and found to be unsubstantiated.[107]

Ritz-Carlton Allegations

In March 2018, the New York Times reported that Saudi authorities used physical abuse to coerce so-called corruption detainees to hand over assets following their detention in the Ritz-Carton hold in early November 2017. The report stated that at least 17 people required hospitalization for abuse in detention, including one, Maj. Gen. Ali al-Qahtani, an aide to Prince Turki bin Abdullah, who later died in detention. The report cited a person who saw the body, which had signs of physical abuse including a twisted neck and burns that appeared to be from electric shocks.[108]

The Times expanded on these initial allegations in November 2018, reporting that the mistreatment included “beatings, electrical shocks and suspension upside down for long periods.” The November report also said that some former detainees had shown their family members lasting scars from beatings and electric shocks, and in one case a photo of the bruises and scars was shared with the Times.[109]

The Times also reported that among those tortured in the Ritz-Carlton was medical doctor Walid al-Fitaihi who holds both Saudi and American nationality. During an interrogation session which he later reportedly recounted to friend, “he was slapped, blindfolded, stripped to his underwear and bound to a chair. He was shocked with electricity in what appears to have been a single session of torture that lasted about an hour.”[110]

The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2018 that another detainee, Hani Khoja, a former employee of the management consulting firm McKinsey and Company, was repeatedly beaten by Saudi authorities at the Ritz-Carlton. [111] Authorities eventually released Khoja in January 2019.[112]

IV. Comprehensive List of Detainees

After Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince, the Saudi authorities initiated a series of arrest campaigns which appeared aimed at stamping out all domestic opposition to his policies and reforms. The arrests targeted clerics, intellectuals, journalists, businesspeople, royal family members, high-level government officials, and women’s rights advocates.

Human Rights Watch compiled lists of detainees from available evidence including interviews with Saudi human rights activists, official statements, and media reports. The lists are not exhaustive. Unless otherwise indicated, the latest available information indicates that individuals listed remain in detention.

Human Rights Watch does not endorse all the views expressed by individuals mentioned in this report. These views, which in some cases may be offensive or objectionable, nevertheless do not amount to speech that Saudi Arabia can lawfully restrict without violating international human rights standards.

Arrests of Dissidents Beginning in September 2017

In September 2017, three months after Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince, Saudi authorities launched a sweeping arrest campaign targeting dozens of prominent Saudis including clerics, academics, intellectuals, journalists, and human rights activists.

Among the individuals arrested were popular clerics Salman al-Awda, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omari. Al-Awda and al-Qarni were members of the “Sahwa Movement” in the early 1990s, which called for reforms in Saudi Arabia including an elected parliament and constitution. Both maintain large followings on social media platforms. Saudi authorities also targeted individuals such as Essam al-Zamil, an economist who had called into question Saudi projections of revenue from the Aramco initial public offering (IPO), as well as Mustafa al-Hasan, an academic, Abdullah Al-Malki, a reformist academic and writer, Hassan al-Maliki, a religious reformist, Khalid al-Alkami, a journalist, and dozens of other clerics including Ibrahim al-Nasser, and Ibrahim al-Fares.[113] Authorities imprisoned human rights activists Abdulaziz al-Shubaily and Issa al-Hamid around the same time, after both had recently lost appeals of convictions for their human rights work following unfair  trials.[114]

A September 12 Saudi Press Agency announcement confirmed the arrests, stating that the Presidency of State Security, the country’s new counterterrorism agency, had worked “to monitor the intelligence activities of a group of people for the benefit of foreign parties against the security of the kingdom and its interests, methodology, capabilities, and social peace in order to stir up sedition and prejudice national unity.” It said the group included Saudis and foreigners.[115]

Reuters noted that many of those detained had failed to sufficiently back Saudi policies, including the policy of isolating Qatar.[116] A relative of Salman al-Awda told Human Rights Watch he said he believed that authorities arrested al-Awda because he hadn’t complied with an order from Saudi authorities to tweet a specific text to support the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar.[117]

Detainee List

2017

  1. Awad al-Qarni, preacher, university professor, and author, detained in September 2017, on trial, public prosecution seeking the death penalty for alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.
  2. Ali al-Omari, imam, author, detained in September 2017, on trial, public prosecution seeking the death penalty for alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.
  3. Salman al-Awda, sheikh, detained in September 2017, on trial, public prosecution seeking the death penalty for alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.
  4. Ali Badahdah, imam, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  5. Idris Abkar, imam, detained in September 2017.
  6. Khaled al-Shannar, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  7. Adel Bana’mah, preacher, academic, detained in September 2017.
  8. Khalid al-Mhawesh, academic and public figure, detained in September 2017.
  9. Abdullah al-Sweilem, imam, detained in September 2017.
  10. Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), detained in September 2017, serving eight-year prison sentence.
  11. Issa al-Hamid, founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), detained in September 2017, serving nine-year prison sentence.
  12. Abdul Aziz Al Abdullatif, sheikh, detained in September 2017, serving five-year prison sentence following 2018 conviction.
  13. Mustafa al-Hasan, academic scholar and novelist, detained in September 2017.
  14. Ziad Bin Naheet, poet, detained in September 2017 and released in December 2017.
  15. Essam al-Zamel, economic researcher and writer, detained in September 2017, on trial for alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.
  16. Abdullah al-Maliki, academic, detained in September 2017.
  17. Khalid al-Awda, brother of Salman al-Awda, detained in September 2017.
  18. Abd al-Muhsin al-Ahmad, doctor, preacher, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  19. Walid al-Huwairini, Islamic scholar, detained in September 2017.
  20. Yusuf al-Ahmad, preacher, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  21. Ibrahim al-Fares, preacher, university assistant professor, detained in September 2017.
  22. Ibrahim al-Naser, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  23. Muhammad al-Habdan, imam, detained in September 2017.
  24. Ghorm al-Bishi, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  25. Mohammed bin Abdel Aziz al-Khodeiri, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  26. Mohammed Musa al-Shareef, imam, detained in September 2017.
  27. Ibrahim al-Harithi, sheikh, detained in September 2017.
  28. Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, preacher, detained in September 2017, on trial facing charges related to his religious ideas.
  29. Al-Abbas al-Maliki, son of the Islamic scholar Hasan al-Maliki, detained in October 2017.
  30. Khaled al-Ajimi, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  31. Fahd al-Snaidy, media figure, detained in September 2017, on trial beginning in September 2018.
  32. Mohammad al-Khudairi, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  33. Mohammad al-Shannar, preacher, detained in September 2017, on trial beginning in September 2018.
  34. Hamood al-Omari, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  35. Ibrahim Hael al-Yamani, university professor and a former mufti, detained in September 2017.
  36. Muhammad Saleh al-Munajid, scholar and founder of website Islamqa.info, detained in September 2017.
  37. Mousa al-Ghanami, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  38. Muhamad al-Barrak, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  39. Sami Abdulaziz al-Majid, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  40. Fawwaz al-Ghaslan, poet, detained in September 2017, released in May 2019.
  41. Habib bin Ma’laa al-Mutairi, university professor and a member of the National Society for Human Rights, detained in October 2017.
  42. Razin bin Mohammad al-Razin, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  43. Mohammed bin Saud al-Bisher, university professor, detained in October 2017.
  44. Sa’ad bin Matar al-Otaibi, teaching assistant in university, detained in September 2017.
  45. Mubarak bin Zuair, teaching assistant in university, detained in October 2017.
  46. Sheikh Jamal al-Najim, university professor, detained in October 2017, on trial.
  47. Malik al-Ahmed, university professor and media consultant, detained in September 2017.
  48. Saeed bin Farwa, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  49. Sheikh Sami al-Ghayheb, director of the Unit to Combat Extortion Crimes in the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, detained in October 2017.
  50. Salim al-Deeni, undersecretary of the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, detained in September 2017.
  51. Ahmed al-Sowayan, president of the Islamic Press Association, detained in September 2017.
  52. Ali Abu al-Hasan, pedagogue and media figure, detained in September 2017.
  53.  Khalid al-Alkami, writer and journalist, detained in September 2017.
  54. Zayed al-Banawi, retired colonel, detained in October 2017.
  55. Sami al-Thobaiti, journalist, detained in September 2017.
  56. Rabea Hafiz, chanter, detained in September 2017.
  57. Musa’ed bin Hamad al-Kathairi, media figure, detained in September 2017.
  58. Ali al-Jahni, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  59. Yousef al-Mahous, imam, dean of Hatwa College of Science and Human Studies at Majmaah University, detained in September 2017.
  60. Yousef Ahmad al-Qasem, Islamic jurisprudence professor, member of the Higher Judicial Institute at Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University, detained in September 2017.
  61. Abdullatif al-Hussein, university professor, detained in October 2017.
  62. Abdulaziz al-Zahrani, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  63. Sonhat al-Otaibi, business consultant, detained in September 2017, released temporarily in April 2019.
  64. Munawer al-Noub al-Abdali, sheikh, detained in September 2017.
  65. Nayef al-Sahafi, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  66. Mohammad bin Saleh al-Moqbel, sheikh, president of Quran memorization society, detained in September 2017.
  67. Mohammad al-Dosari, judge, detained in September 2017, released.
  68. Omar al-Haseen, judge, detained in September 2017, released.
  69. Sultan bin Hanas bin Shaddah, detained in September 2017, released.
  70. Bandar al-Tuwaijiri, judge, detained in September 2017, released.
  71. Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Abdallatif, judge, detained in September 2017, released.
  72. Turki bin Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, judge, detained in September 2017, released.
  73. Ahmad al-Amira, undersecretary of the Justice Ministry, detained in September 2017.
  74. Yousef al-Faraj, office director of the minister of justice, detained in September 2017.
  75. Owaid bin Hmood al-Atwi, former university professor, Vice President of the Graduate Studies and Scientific Research at Tabuk University, detained in September 2017, released.
  76. Rashed al-Shehri, head of the Supreme Court in Jeddah, detained in September 2017.
  77. Saud bin Ghosn, sheikh, detained in September 2017.
  78. Jamil Farsi, writer, detained in September 2017.
  79. Yousef al-Molhem, online activist, satirist, detained in September 2017.
  80. Fayez bin Damekh, media figure, detained in September 2017.
  81. Saad al-Breik, sheikh, detained in November 2017.
  82. Ruqayya al-Moharib, university professor, detained in September 2017, released in March 2019.
  83. Noora al-Saad, academic, detained in September 2017, released.

2018

  1. Ahmad al-Rashid, lawyer, detained in April 2018.
  2. Abdullah al-Mofleh, novelist, online activist, detained in September 2018.
  3. Sultan al-Jumeiri, author, detained in September 2018.
  4. Ahmad Abdulaziz al-Zahrani, brother of the activist Omar Abdulaziz al-Zahrani, detained in August 2018.
  5. Abdulmajid Abdulaziz al-Zahrani, brother of activist Omar Abdulaziz al-Zahrani, detained in August 2018.
  6. Safar al-Hawali, prominent Islamic scholar, detained in July 2018.
  7. Abdulrahman al-Hawali, son of Safar al-Hawali, detained in July 2018.
  8. Abdullah al-Hawali, son of Safar al-Hawali, detained in July 2018.
  9. Ibrahim al-Hawali, son of Safar al-Hawali, detained in July 2018, released in February 2019.
  10. Abdulrahim al-Hawali, son of Safar al-Hawali, detained in July 2018.
  11. Saadallah al-Hawali, brother of Safar al-Hawali, detained in July 2018.
  12. Ahmad bin Ali al-Hawali, a relative of Safar al-Hawali, detained in August 2018.
  13. Abdullah bin Ali al-Hawali, a relative of Safar al-Hawali, detained in September 2018.
  14. Ismail Hassan, secretary of Safar al-Hawali, August 2018.
  15. Ahmad al-Amari, sheikh, former dean of the Quran Faculty in the Islamic University of Medina, detained in September 2018 and died in custody in January 2019.
  16. Saleh Al Taleb, sheikh, imam at the Grand Mosque, detained in August 2018.
  17. Ali bin Abbar al-Za’al, poet, tribal Sheikh, detained in May 2018, released in February 2019.
  18. Nasser al-Omar, sheikh, former university professor, detained in August 2018.
  19. Yasser Abdullah al-Ayyaf, activist, detained summer 2018.
  20. Abdulaziz al-Fawzan, preacher, professor at the Higher Judicial Institute at the Imam Mohammed bin Saud university, detained in July 2018.
  21. Muhammad al-Duhas al-Otaibi, preacher, teacher at the Institute of the Holy Mosque of Mecca, detained in July 2018, released in July 2019.
  22. Ali bin Saeed al-Ghaamdi, preacher, detained in July 2018, released in February 2019 due to deteriorating health conditions.
  23. Mohammed al-Bajadi, founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), detained in May 2018.
  24. Mamdouh al-Harbi, preacher, detained in August 2018, released in January 2019.
  25. Turki al-Jaser, journalist, detained in March 2018.
  26. Ayda al-Ghamidi, mother of the activist Abdullah al-Ghamidi who lives in exile, detained in March 2018.
  27. Adel al-Ghamidi, brother of the activist Abdullah al-Ghamidi who lives in exile, detained in March 2018.
  28. Sultan al-Ghamidi, brother of the activist Abdullah al-Ghamidi who lives in exile, detained in March 2018.
  29. Ahmed Bathaf, university professor, detained in May 2018.
  30. Salah al-Shehi, journalist, detained in January 2018, sentenced to five years in prison.
  31. Turki al-Dosari, media figure, detained in April 2018.
  32. Bader bin Ali al-Otaibi, sheikh, detained in April 2018, released in January 2019.
  33. Abdul Aziz al-Mehdi, comedian, detained in June 2018, released in January 2019.
  34. Nawwaf Talal al-Rasheed, poet, dual Qatari and Saudi citizen, detained in May 2018, released in April 2019.
  35. Omar al-Saeed, member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), detained again in June 2018.
  36. Hussein Abu al-Rahha, artist, detained in November 2018.
  37. Khaled bin Suleiman al-Omair, political activist, detained in July 2018.
  38. Marwan al-Mreesi, Yemeni journalist, detained in June 2018.
  39. Ali al-Shammari, poet, detained in June 2018.
  40. Abdulrahman al-Sahdan, employee at the Saudi Red Crescent, detained in March 2018.
  41. Abdulrahman Mohammad al-Arifi, son of Islamic scholar Mohammad al-Arifi, detained in December 2018.
  42. Sheikh Bandar Baleelah, imam at the Grand Mosque, detained and released in September 2018.
  43. Noha al-Balawi, online activist, detained in January 2018, on trial.

2019

  1. Abdullatif Hussein al-Nasser, sheikh, detained in June 2019.
  2. Faisal bin Sultan bin Jahjaah bin Hameed, tribal Sheikh, detained in October 2019.
  3. Abdulaziz al-Awda, activist and a relative of Salman al-Awda, detained in October 2019.
  4. Abdulrahman al-Mahmoud, sheikh and former member of the teaching committee at Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University, detained in October 2019.
  5. Omar al-Moqbal, sheikh, detained in October 2019.

November 2017 “Corruption” Arrests

On the evening of November 4, 2017 the Saudi Press Agency announced a royal decree establishing a high-level anticorruption committee headed by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.[118] Later in the evening, the Saudi-owned news channel Al Arabiya began reporting that Saudi authorities were conducting mass detentions of prominent individuals allegedly involved in corruption.[119]

Those detained included Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an influential businessman and chairman of Kingdom Holding Company. In addition to Alwaleed bin Talal, the detainees included a former national guard minister, Prince Mutib bin Abdullah; a former finance minister, Ibrahim al-Assaf, a former planning minister, Adel Fakih; a former Riyadh governor, Prince Turki bin Abdullah; a former royal court chief, Khalid al-Tuwaijri, Bakr Binladin, the chairman of the Saudi Binladin Group; and Alwaleed al-Ibrahim, owner of the MBC television network.

Following the arrests, three government officials told Reuters that the detainees included 11 princes, four ministers, dozens of former ministers, and several influential businessmen and media executives. The same report indicated that authorities were holding the detainees at the five-star Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.[120]

While in detention at the Ritz-Carlton, authorities pressured detainees to hand over assets to the state in exchange for their release outside of any recognizable legal process, and many reportedly made deals.[121] In March 2018, the New York Times reported that Saudi authorities used physical abuse to coerce detainees to hand over assets, stating that at least 17 detainees required hospitalization following this abuse.[122]

On January 31, the Saudi Press Agency released a statement by the royal court saying that the anti-corruption committee, led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, had “concluded its tasks” after summoning 381 people to give evidence.[123] The statement said that those not indicted on corruption charges had been released, while 87 had agreed to settlements and 56 had been refused settlements and remained in custody “to continue the investigations process.” The statement said that the authorities had referred eight others to the public prosecutor after they refused to settle. The statement concluded that “more than SR400 billion (US$107 billion) was retrieved to the state treasury in the form of real estate, companies, cash, and other assets.”[124] The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh resumed normal business operations in early February 2018.[125]

An informed source close to six of the detainees held in the Ritz-Carlton told Human Rights Watch that even though most of the detainees reached settlements and were released, they remain tightly monitored by authorities, even those who returned to their previous positions or portions of their companies or financial assets. He said that in some cases authorities have forced former detainees to involuntarily return to their former companies or positions or compel them to accept new roles.[126]

Detainee List

  1. Adel Fakih, former minister of economy and planning, detained in November 2017.
  2. Waleed al-Ibrahim, chairman of MBC group, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  3. Amr al-Dabbagh, chairman of al-Dabbagh Group and former head of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  4. Bakr Binladin, chairman of Binladin Group, detained in November 2017.
  5. Saad Binladin, Binladin Group, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  6. Saleh Binladin, Binladin Group, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  7. Fawaz Alhokair, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  8. Hani Khoja, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  9. Ibrahim al-Assaf, minister, detained and released in November 2017.
  10. Mohammed al-Jasser, former Minister of Economy and Planning, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  11. Sultan al-Dweish, executive director of Future Investment, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  12. Ibrahim al-Muaqel, headed the Human Resources Development Fund, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  13. Abdulrahman Fakih, businessman, detained in November 2017.
  14. Hamed al-Dweili`, former deputy minister, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  15. Khalid al-Baltan, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  16. Rami al-Nuaimi, son of former minister, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  17. Khalid Abdullah al-Molhem, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  18. Khalid al-Tuwaijri, former head of the Saudi Royal Court, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  19. Loay Nazer, son of former Planning Minister Hisham Nazer, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  20. Major General Ali al-Qahtani, Saudi military officer and associate of Prince Turki bin Abdullah, detained in November 2017, died in custody.
  21. Mansour al-Balawi, former chairman of al-Ettihad sports club, detained in November 2017.
  22. Mohammad Hussein al-Amoudi, Saudi-Ethiopian businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  23. Mohammed al-Tobaishi, former head of protocol of the Royal Court, detained and released in November 2017.
  24. Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, founder of Al Tayyar Travel, detained in November 2017.
  25. Osama al-Bar, former mayor of Mecca province, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  26. Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud, detained in January 2018.
  27. Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Mohammad Al Saud, detained in January 2018.
  28. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, businessman and member of the Saudi royal court, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  29. Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahad, former minister, detained in November 2017, released in 2018.
  30. Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammad Al Saud, former deputy defense minister, former commander of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces and member of House of Saud, detained in November 2017.
  31. Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, son of late King Abdullah, former head of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority, detained in November 2017, released in December 2017.
  32. Prince Khalid bin Talal, businessman, brother of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, detained in November 2017, released in November 2018.
  33. Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah, son of King Abdullah and former governor of Mecca province, detained in November 2017, released in December 2017.
  34. Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah al-Saud, son of the late King Abdullah and former minister of the Saudi National Guard, detained and released in November 2017.
  35. Prince Turki bin Abdullah, son of the late King Abdullah, former governor of Riyadh province, detained in November 2017.
  36. Faisal al-Jarba, associate of Prince Turki bin Abdullah, detained in November 2018.
  37. Prince Turki bin Nasser, former military official, detained in November 2017,released in January 2018.
  38. Saleh Kamal, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in December 2017.
  39. Sami al-Zuhaibi, consultant, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  40. Sami Baroum, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  41. Saud al-Daweesh, former CEO of Saudi Telecom company, detained in November 2017,released in December 2017.
  42. Walid al-Fitaihi, doctor and public figure, detained in November 2017, released in August 2019, on trial.
  43. Zuhair Fayez, businessman, detained in November 2017.
  44. Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammad al-Sultan, Commander of the Royal Saudi Navy, detained in November 2017.

Detention of Women’s Rights Advocates

In May 2018, just weeks before Saudi authorities lifted the ban on women driving on June 24, Saudi authorities opened a large-scale coordinated crackdown against the country’s women’s rights movement. Authorities initially arrested at least 13 prominent women’s rights activists and accused several of them of grave crimes that appear to be directly related to their activism. Government-aligned media outlets carried out an alarming campaign against them, branding them “traitors.”[127]

In November 2018, Human Rights Watch obtained credible evidence that Saudi authorities tortured at least four of the detained women activists while holding them at an unofficial detention facility called a “hotel” or “officer’s guesthouse,” presumably in Jeddah, between May and August. The torture included electric shocks, whippings, and sexual harassment and assault including touching and groping.[128]

On March 1, 2019, Saudi Arabia announced that the detained women’s rights advocates would face charges.[129] A Public Prosecution statement described the detainees as undertaking “coordinated and organized activities … that aim to undermine the Kingdom’s security, stability, and national unity.”[130] A Public Prosecution spokesperson also told local media on March 1 that the Saudi Human Rights Commission and National Society for Human Rights had investigated the torture claims and found no evidence to support  them.[131]

On March 13, Saudi Arabia opened individual trials of 10 women before the Riyadh Criminal Court, and the women learned their charges for the first time. The women on trial included nine women activists including Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shaden al-Onaizi, Amal al-Harbi, Abeer Namankani, Maysa al-Manea, as well as Roqaya al-Muhareb, an Islamist detainee originally arrested during a separate crackdown in September 2017.[132]

Informed sources who reviewed the prosecutor’s written charge sheets have described to Human Rights Watch the content of charges for three of the detainees, nearly all of which are related to peaceful human rights work, including promoting women’s rights and calling for an end to Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system. The sources said that charges against the other women are similar. Prosecutors also accused the women of sharing information about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia with journalists based in Saudi Arabia, diplomats, and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, deeming such contacts a criminal offense.[133]

On March 28, 2019, authorities allowed the “temporary release” of Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, and Roqaya al-Muhareb.[134] On May 3, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shaden al-Onaizi, Amal al-Harbi, Abeer Namankani, and Maysa al-Manea were also “temporarily released.”[135] Loujain al-Hathloul and Mayaa al-Zahrani remain in detention for unknown reasons.

Three other prominent women’s rights activists, Samar Badawi, Nour Abdulaziz, and Nassema al-Sadah, were finally brought to trial in Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court on June 27, but the charges against them have not been made public.[136]

The May 2018 arrests also included men connected to the women’s rights movement, including lawyer Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, activist Mohammad al-Rabea, and businessman Abdulaziz al-Mashal. Al-Modaimeegh and al-Mashal were released in December and January respectively, but al-Rabea remains in detention apparently without charge.[137]

Detainee List

  1. Nouf Abdelaziz, writer and women’s rights activist, detained on June 6, 2018, on trial.
  2. Mayaa al-Zahrani, women’s rights activist, detained on June 10, 2018.
  3. Hatoon al-Fassi, women’s rights activist, contributor to al-Riyadh newspaper, associate professor at King Saud University, detained on June 21, 2018, released in May 2019.
  4. Loujain al-Hathloul, women’s rights activist, detained on May 15, 2018, on trial.
  5. Eman al-Nafjan, women’s rights activist, blogger, detained on May 24, 2018, released on March 28, 2019.
  6. Aziza al-Yousef, women’s rights activist, detained on May 15, 2018, released on March 28, 2019.
  7. Amal al-Harbi, wife of activist Fawzan al-Harbi a member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, detained in July 2018, released in May 2019.
  8. Nassima al-Sadah, human rights activist, detained in late July 2018, on trial.
  9. Samar Badawi, human rights activist, detained in late July 2018, on trial.
  10. Shadan al-Onezi women’s rights activist, detained in May 2018, released in May 2019.
  11. Abeer Abdullah Al Namankany, women’s rights activist, detained in November 2018, released in May 2019.
  12. Maysa al-Manea, women’s rights activist, detained in May 2018, released in May 2019.
  13. Madeeha al-Ajroush, women’s rights activist, detained and released in May 2018.
  14. Hessa al-Sheikh, women’s rights activist, detained and released in May 2018.
  15. Aisha al-Manea, women’s rights activist, detained and released in May 2018.
  16. Walaa al-Shubbar, women’s rights activist, detained and released in May 2018.
  17. Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, lawyer and human rights activist, detained on May 15, 2018, released in December 2018.
  18. Mohammad al-Rabea, women’s rights activist, detained on May 15, 2018.
  19. Abdulaziz al-Meshaal, philanthropist, women’s rights activist, detained on May 15, 2018, released in January 2019.

April 2019 Arrests

Around April 4, 2019, despite continuing international criticism stemming from the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Arabia carried out a new round of arrests, this time targeting 13 writers and activists. Saudi human rights activists told Human Rights Watch that they did not know the specific basis of the arrests but said that all of those detained had connections to the Saudi women’s rights movement.[138]

One of those detained on April 4, Salah al-Haidar, is a US-Saudi dual citizen and the son of prominent women’s rights activist, Aziza al-Yousef. In addition to al-Haidar, those detained included Bader al-Ibrahim, a writer and medical doctor who is also a US-Saudi dual citizen; and Mohammad al-Sadiq, Abdullah al-Dehailan, Naif al-Hendas, Ayman al-Drees, Redha al-Bori, and Moqbel al-Saqqar, and Thumar al-Marzouqi and his wife, Khadijah al-Harbi, all of whom are writers. The others are Abdullah al-Shehri a lawyer, his wife Sheikha al-Urf, a physician, and Fahad Abalkhail, an independent activist. Al-Harbi was pregnant at the time of her arrest.[139]

In March, Saudi authorities detained Anas al-Mazrou, a lecturer at King Saud University, after he raised the issue of the detained Saudi women’s rights activists during a panel discussion at the Riyadh Book Fair in February.[140]

Detainee List

  1.  Salah al-Haidar, writer and activist, detained in April 2019.

2. Bader al-Ibrahim, writer and medical doctor, detained in April 2019.

3. Mohammad al-Sadiq, writer, detained in April 2019.

4. Adullah al-Dehailan, writer, detained in April 2019.

5.  Naif al-Hendas, writer, detained in April 2019.

6. Ayman al-Drees, writer, detained in April 2019.

7. Redha al-Bori, writer, detained in April 2019.

8. Moqbel al-Saqqar, writer, detained in April 2019.

9. Thumar al-Marzouqi, writer, detained in April 2019.

10. Khadijah al-Harbi, writer, detained in April 2019.

11. Abdullah al-Shehri, lawyer, detained in April 2019.

12. Sheikha al-Urf, physician, detained in April 2019

13. Fahad Abalkhail, activist, detained in April 2019.

14. Anas al-Mazrou, lecturer at King Saud University, detained in March 2019.

Acknowledgements

This report was researched and written by Adam Coogle, senior researcher with the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, with extensive research support from a research assistant in the Middle East and North Africa division and Aaron Burroughs, intern with the Middle East and North Africa division.

The report was reviewed by a Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director; Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher; Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor; and Tom Porteous, deputy program director. Diana Naoum, coordinator in the Middle East and North Africa division, provided editorial and production assistance. Senior coordinator, Jose Martinez, and administrative manager, Fitzroy Hepkins, prepared the report for publication.

 

 

[1] Steffen Hertog, Princes, Brokers, and Bureaucrats: Oil and the State in Saudi Arabia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010); Nabil Mouline, The Clerics of Islam: Religious Authority and Political Power in Saudi Arabia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014).

[2] “Saudi Arabia: A Move to Curb Religious Police Abuses,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 18, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/04/18/saudi-arabia-move-curb-religious-pol... “Saudi Arabia: Prominent Clerics Arrested,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 15, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/15/saudi-arabia-prominent-clerics-arrested.

[3] “Saudi Arabia: Corruption Arrests Raise Due Process Concerns,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 8, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/08/saudi-arabia-corruption-arrests-rais....

[4] Adam Coogle, “Essam Koshak Case Will Test Saudi Arabia’s ‘Reformed’ Prosecution Service,” commentary, Human Rights Watch, July 18, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/18/essam-koshak-case-will-test-saudi-ar... “Saudi Arabia creates new security authority,” Saudi Gazette, July 20, 2017, http://saudigazette.com.sa/article/513421 (accessed September 16, 2019).

[5] Katie Paul, “Saudi prince, relieved from National Guard, once seen as throne contender,” Reuters, November 4, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-government-defence-newsmaker/sa... (accessed September 17, 2019).

[6] Stephanie Flanders, Vivian Nereim, Donna Abu-Nasr, Nayla Razzouk, Alaa Shahine, and Riad Hamade, “Saudi Crown Prince Discusses Trump, Aramco, Arrests: Transcript,” Bloomberg, October 5, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-05/saudi-crown-prince-di... (accessed September 16, 2019).

[7] Karen Elliott House, “The Making of Saudi Arabia’s Energetic, Ruthless Crown Prince,” The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-making-of-saudi-arabias-energetic-ruthl... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman named defense minister,” Al Arabiya, January 23, 2015, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/01/23/Saudi-Princ... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[10] Justin Vela, “Saudi Arabia’s King Salman changes line of succession,” The National, April 25, 2015, https://www.thenational.ae/world/saudi-arabia-s-king-salman-changes-line... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[11] Abdallah al-Barqawi, “By Order of the King, Ending the Service of the Director of Public Security, Changing the Name of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution, and Dismissals and Appointments,” SABQ, https://sabq.org/%D8%A8%D8%A3%D9%85%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%84%D9%83... (accessed October 30, 2019). 

[12] Royal Decree 240 available here: https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewstory.php?lang=ar&newsid=1640804 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[13] Human Rights Watch, Challenging the Red Lines: Stories of Rights Activists in Saudi Arabia, December 17, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/12/17/challenging-red-lines/stories-righ....

[14] “Saudi Arabia: Leadership Change Should Prioritize Improving Rights,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 22, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/22/saudi-arabia-leadership-change-shoul....

[15] Naser Al Wasmi, “Saudi Arabia’s Allegiance Council gives Prince Mohammed bin Salman vote of confidence,” The National, June 21, 2017, https://www.thenational.ae/world/saudi-arabia-s-allegiance-council-gives... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[16] Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt, and Mark Mazzetti, “Deposed Saudi Prince Is Said to Be Confined to Palace,” New York Times, June 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/28/world/middleeast/deposed-saudi-prince... (accessed August 30, 2019); “Saudi Arabia: Clarify Status of Ex-Crown Prince,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 27, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/27/saudi-arabia-clarify-status-ex-crown....

[17] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, October 29, 2019.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Stephen Kalin and Katie Paul, “Future Saudi king tightens grip on power with arrests including Prince Alwaleed,” Reuters, November 5, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests/future-saudi-king-tight... (accessed August 30, 2019); “Saudi Arabia: Corruption Arrests Raise Due Process Concerns,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 8, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/08/saudi-arabia-corruption-arrests-rais....

[20] “Saudi Arabia forms new apparatus of state security,” Arab News, July 21, 2017, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1132466/saudi-arabia (accessed August 30, 2019).

[21] “PROFILE: New Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef,” Al Arabiya, June 21, 2017, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2017/06/21/PROFILE-The-new-Sau... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[22] Katie Paul, “Saudi prince, relieved from National Guard, once seen as throne contender,” Reuters, November 4, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-government-defence-newsmaker/sa... (accessed September 17, 2019).

[23] Kenneth Rogoff, “What’s behind the drop in oil prices?” World Economic Forum, March 2, 2016, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/03/what-s-behind-the-drop-in-oil-pri... (accessed August 28, 2019).

[24] Martin Dokoupil, “Saudi could see budget deficit next year, risks draining reserves -IMF,” Reuters, September 24, 2014, https://www.reuters.com/article/imf-saudi-budget/saudi-could-see-budget-... (accessed August 28, 2019).

[25] “Saudi plans spending cuts, revenue push to shrink 2016 budget deficit,” Reuters, December 28, 2015, https://www.reuters.com/article/saudi-budget/saudi-plans-spending-cuts-r... (accessed August 28,2019).

[26] The World Bank, “Unemployment, youth total (% of total labor force ages 15-24) (modeled ILO estimate) – Saudi Arabia,” https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.UEM.1524.ZS?locations=SA (accessed August 28, 2019); Ismaeel Naar, “Saudi Arabia launches committee to tackle unemployment,” Al Arabiya, October 15, 2015, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/business/economy/2015/10/15/Saudi-Arabi... (accessed August 28, 2019).

[27] Luay Al-Khatteeb, “Saudi Arabia’s economic time bomb,” The Brookings Institution, December 30, 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/saudi-arabias-economic-time-bomb/ (accessed August 28, 2019).

[28] “Transcript: Interview with Muhammad bin Salman,” The Economist, January 6, 2016, https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2016/01/06/transcript-i... (accessed August 29, 2019).

[29] Vision 2030, available at: https://vision2030.gov.sa/en (accessed August 29, 2019).

[30] Ibid.

[31] Michelle Cioffoletti, “The Restructuring of Saudi Arts and Entertainment,” The Arab Gulf States Institute, August 8, 2019, https://agsiw.org/the-restructuring-of-saudi-arts-and-entertainment/ (accessed August 30, 2019).

[32] Nick Vivarelli, “Saudi Arabia Says It Will Invest $35 Billion in Movie Theaters by 2020,” Variety, April 4, 2019, https://variety.com/2019/film/news/saudi-arabia-movie-theaters-invest-35... (accessed August 30 2019).

[33] Michelle Cioffoletti, “The Restructuring of Saudi Arts and Entertainment,” The Arab Gulf States Institute, August 8, 2019, https://agsiw.org/the-restructuring-of-saudi-arts-and-entertainment/ (accessed August 30, 2019).

[34] “Saudi Arabia's religious authority says cinemas, song concerts harmful,” Reuters, January 17, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-saudi-entertainment-idUSKBN1511LL (accessed May 30, 2019); Bethan McKernan, “Saudi Arabia's entertainment chief fired after conservative backlash over Russian circus ‘nudity',” The Independent, June 19, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-russia... (accessed August 30, 2019); “Nicki Minaj pulls out of Saudi Arabia concert after backlash,” The Guardian, July 9, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/jul/09/nicki-minaj-pulls-out-of-s... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[35] Hadeel Al Sayegh, Davide Barbuscia, and Saeed Azhar, “Saudi Aramco aims to begin planned IPO on November 3: sources,” Reuters, October 29, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-aramco-ipo/saudi-aramco-aims-to... (accessed October 31, 2019).

[36] Dominic Dudley, “International Investors Are Pulling Out Of The Saudi Stock Market In The Wake Of Khashoggi Murder,” Forbes, November 30, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/dominicdudley/2018/11/30/investors-shun-sau... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[37] Andrew England and Ahmed Al Omran, “Saudi Arabia attracts financiers again as Khashoggi outrage fades,” Financial Times, April 24, 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/615e2ff6-6678-11e9-9adc-98bf1d35a056 (accessed August 30, 2019); Michael J. de la Merced, Stanley Reed, and Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Business Quietly Returns to Saudi Arabia After Khashoggi’s Murder,” New York Times, April 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/business/saudi-arabia-business.html (accessed August 30, 2019).

[38] “General: royal decree on releasing royal court advisor Saud al-Qahtani from his position,” Saudi Press Agency, October 19, 2018, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewstory.php?lang=ar&newsid=1830333 (accessed August 31, 2019).

[39] Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard, “It Wasn’t Just Khashoggi: A Saudi Prince’s Brutal Drive to Crush Dissent,” New York Times, March 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/17/world/middleeast/khashoggi-crown-prin... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[40] Ibid,

[41] Tweet by Saud al-Qahtani (@saudq1978) on Twitter social media platform, August 17, 2017, https://www.arab48.com/%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A7/%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%AF... (accessed October 30, 2019).

[42] “Full text: Saudi Arabia's public prosecution briefing on the Jamal Khashoggi murder investigation,” Arab News, November 15, 2018, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1405526 (accessed August 31, 2019); Dion Nissenbaum, Warren P. Strobel, and Summer Said, “U.S. Seeks Accountability for Former Saudi Aide in Khashoggi Killing,” Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-seeks-accountability-for-former-saudi-a... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[43] Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), “A Conversation with HRH Prince Khalid bin Bandar Al Saud, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom,” October 14, 2019, https://www.rusi.org/event/conversation-hrh-prince-khalid-bin-bandar-al-... (accessed October 23, 2019); “A Conversation with HRH Prince Khalid bin Bandar Al Saud,” October 15, 2019, video clip, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=945&v=QbUaaspPKww (accessed October 23, 2019).

[44] “Saudi Arabia: Thousands Held Arbitrarily,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/06/saudi-arabia-thousands-held-arbitrarily.

[45] Saudi Criminal Procedure Law, art. 114, available at: https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/ar/sa/sa045ar.pdf (accessed October 30, 2019).

[46] “Saudi Arabia: Clarify Status of ‘Corruption’ Detainees,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 18, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/18/saudi-arabia-clarify-status-corrupti....

[47] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, February 8, 2019.

[48] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, January 24, 2019.

[49] Karim Faheem and Loveday Morris, “Saudi campaign to abduct and silence rivals abroad goes back decades,” Washington Post, November 4, 2018, https://beta.washingtonpost.com/world/saudi-campaign-to-abduct-and-silen... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[50] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with family member of Walid al-Fitaihi, March 13, 2019.

[51] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Saudi Arabia Is Said to Have Tortured an American Citizen,” New York Times, March 2, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/02/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-torture... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[52] Ben Hubbard, “Saudi Arabia Frees Doctor With U.S. Citizenship After 21 Months,” New York Times, August 1, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/01/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-doctor-... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[53] “Saudi court postpones hearing of prominent preacher Awdah: son,” Reuters, July 28, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests/saudi-court-postpones-h... (accessed August 31, 2019); Human Rights Watch interview with al-Awda family member, October 2019.

[54] “Saudi Arabia: Women’s Rights Activists Charged,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 1, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/01/saudi-arabia-womens-rights-activists....

[55] Human Rights Watch interviews with Saudi human rights activists, August 2019.

[56] United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, “Fact Sheet No. 26, The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet26en.pdf (accessed August 31, 2019).

[57] Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (Body of Principles), adopted December 9, 1988, G.A. Res. 43/173, annex, 43 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 298, U.N. Doc. A/43/49 (1988).

[58] League of Arab States, Arab Charter for Human Rights, adopted May 22, 2004, reprinted in 12 Int'l Hum. Rts. Rep. 893 (2005), entered into force March 15, 2008, art 14.

[59] “Saudi Arabia: Corruption Arrests Raise Due Process Concerns,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 8, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/08/saudi-arabia-corruption-arrests-rais....

[60] “Saudi hotel to reopen after being used as prison in corruption purge,” Reuters, January 15, 2018, https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKBN1F41MF (accessed August 31, 2019).

[61] “Saudi Arabia: Allow Access to Detained Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/06/saudi-arabia-allow-access-detained-w....

[62] Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard, “It Wasn’t Just Khashoggi: A Saudi Prince’s Brutal Drive to Crush Dissent,” New York Times, March 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/17/world/middleeast/khashoggi-crown-prin... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[63] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 20, HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1 at 30, para 11.

[64] “Saudi Arabia: Clarify Status of ‘Corruption’ Detainees,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 18, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/18/saudi-arabia-clarify-status-corrupti....

[65] Simeon Kerr, “Top Saudi broadcaster caught up in Riyadh’s corruption shakedown,” January 27, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/a50075d2-0069-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[66] Stephen Kalin, “Exclusive: Saudi Arabia curbs family influence in Binladin group shake-up,” March 18, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-binladin-exclusive/exclusive-sa... (accessed August 30, 2019); Katie Paul, Tom Arnold, Marwa Rashad, and Stephen Kalin, “As a Saudi prince rose, the Bin Laden business empire crumbled,” September 27, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/saudi-binladin-fall/ (accessed August 30, 2019).

[67] Sarah Dadouch and Katie Paul, “Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed released as corruption probe winds down,” Reuters, January 27, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests-princealwaleed/saudi-bi... (accessed August 30, 2019); Kate Kelly, “Freed From a Gilded Cage, a Famed Saudi Investor Returns to the Markets,” New York Times, August 2, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/02/business/saudi-investor-alwaleed.html (accessed August 30, 2019).

[68] Summer Said, Rory Jones, and Justin Scheck, “Saudis Release Consultant, Billionaire Imprisoned in Crackdown,” The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudis-release-ex-mckinsey-consultant-billi... (accessed August 31, 2019); Nizar Manek and Vivian Nereim, “One of the Mideast's Richest Men Is Among Freed Saudi Detainees,” Bloomberg, January 27, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-27/saudi-ethiopian-billi... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[69] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, October 29, 2019.

[70] Sarah El Sirgany and Tamara Qiblawi, “Jailed Saudi activist rejects deal to deny torture for release, says family,” CNN, August 14, 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/14/middleeast/saudi-hathloul-torture-int... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with informed source, August 16, 2019.

[72] “Saudi Arabia: Cleric Held 4 Months Without Charge,” Human Rights Watch news release, January 7, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/07/saudi-arabia-cleric-held-4-months-wi....

[73] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with family member of Walid al-Fitaihi, March 13, 2019.

[74] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, October 29, 2019.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Saudi human rights activists, October 2019.

[77] Saudi Travel Documents Law, art. 6, available at: https://laws.boe.gov.sa/BoeLaws/Laws/LawDetails/e29f08fa-d53e-4944-b22b-... “Saudi Arabia: Lift Travel Ban on Government Critics,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 13, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/02/13/saudi-arabia-lift-travel-ban-governm....

[78] UN Commission on Human Rights, The right of everyone to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country, 11 March 1985, E/CN.4/RES/1985/22, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3b00f06e4f.html (accessed August 31, 2019).

[79] Documentation of Saudi execution announcements, on file with Human Rights Watch; Human Rights Watch and Justice Project Pakistan, “Caught in a Web”: Treatment of Pakistanis in the Saudi Criminal Justice System, March 7, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/03/07/caught-web/treatment-pakistanis-sa....

[80] “Details of Charges Facing Salman al-Awda,” Erem News, September 4, 2018, https://www.eremnews.com/news/arab-world/saudi-arabia/1481280 (accessed August 31, 2019); Charge sheet on file with Human Rights Watch.

[81] “Political: The Kingdom, Egypt, the Emirates, and Bahrain Announce the Addition of Two Entities and Eleven Individuals to their Prohibited Terrorism List,” Saudi Press Agency, November 23, 2017, https://www.spa.gov.sa/1690714 (accessed August 31, 2019).

[82] “Details of Charges Facing Salman al-Awda,” Erem News, September 4, 2018, https://www.eremnews.com/news/arab-world/saudi-arabia/1481280 (accessed August 31, 2019); Charge sheet on file with Human Rights Watch.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Charge sheet on file with Human Rights Watch.

[85] “Saudi Arabia: Religious Thinker on Trial for His Life,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 23, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/23/saudi-arabia-religious-thinker-trial....

[86] Ibid,

[87] Ibid.

[88] Ibid.

[89] Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton, Adam Senft, Bahr Abdul Razzak, and Ron Deibert, “The Kingdom Came to Canada: How Saudi-Linked Digital Espionage Reached Canadian Soil,” Citizen Lab, October 1, 2018, https://citizenlab.ca/2018/10/the-kingdom-came-to-canada-how-saudi-linke... (accessed October 18, 2019).

[90] Ibid.

[91] “Amnesty International Among Targets of NSO-powered Campaign,” Amnesty International, October 1, 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2018/08/amnesty-international... (accessed October 18, 2019); Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins, “Saudi Arabia accused of hacking London-based dissident,” The Guardian, May 28, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/28/saudi-arabia-accused-of-ha... (accessed October 18, 2019); Thomas Brewster, “Exclusive: Saudi Dissidents Hit With Stealth iPhone Spyware Before Khashoggi's Murder,” Forbes, November 21, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2018/11/21/exclusive-saudi-d... (accessed October 18, 2019).

[92] David Ignatius, “How the mysteries of Khashoggi’s murder have rocked the U.S.-Saudi partnership,” Washington Post, March 29, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/how-the-mysterie... (accessed October 18, 2019).

[93] NSO Group, “Human Rights Policy,” https://www.nsogroup.com/governance/human-rights-policy/ (accessed October 18, 2019).

[94] Tweet from Saud al-Qahtani (@saudq1978) on Twitter social media platform, August 17, 2017, https://twitter.com/bellingcat/status/1144263147416670209/photo/1 (accessed October 30, 2019).

[95] Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones, “About,” https://safcsp.org.sa/en.html (accessed February 7, 2019).

[96] Tweet from Saud al-Qahtani (@saudq1978) on Twitter social media platform, August 18, 2017, http://www.alhayat.com/article/881627/%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%...(accessed October 30, 2019).

[97] Manal al-Sharif, “I’m a Saudi activist. Twitter put my life in danger.” Washington Post, November 9, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2018/11/09/im-a-s... (accessed February 7, 2019).

[98] Nick Hopkins, Stephanie Kirchgaessner, and Kareem Shaheen, “Leaked reports reveal severe abuse of Saudi political prisoners,” Guardian, March 31, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/31/leaked-reports-reveal-abus... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[99] Ibid

[100] “Saudi Arabia: Allow Access to Detained Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/06/saudi-arabia-allow-access-detained-w... Margherita Stancati and Summer Said, “Saudi Arabia Accused of Torturing Women’s-Rights Activists in Widening Crackdown on Dissent,” Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-arabia-accused-of-torturing-women-act... (accessed February 15, 2019); “Deposed aide to Saudi crown prince accused of role in female activists' torture,” Reuters, December 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-khashoggi-aide/deposed-aide-to-... (accessed February 15, 2019).

[101] Alia al-Hathloul, “My Sister Is in a Saudi Prison. Will Mike Pompeo Stay Silent?” New York Times, January 13, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/13/opinion/saudi-women-rights-activist-prison-pompeo.html (accessed February 15, 2019).

[102] “ALQST Confirms New Details of Torture of Saudi Women Activists as British MPs Seek Access to Prisons to Investigate,” ALQST, January 3, 2019, https://alqst.org/eng/confirms-new-details-of-torture-of-saudi-women-act... (accessed February 15, 2019)

[103] “Saudi Arabia: Allow Access to Detained Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/06/saudi-arabia-allow-access-detained-women-activists; “Deposed aide to Saudi crown prince accused of role in female activists' torture,” Reuters, December 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-khashoggi-aide/deposed-aide-to-... (accessed February 15, 2019).

[104] “Saudi Arabia: Allow Access to Detained Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/06/saudi-arabia-allow-access-detained-w....

[105] Human Rights Watch communications with informed sources, January and February 2019.

[106] Vivian Nereim, “Saudis to Probe Allegations That Women Activists Torture,” Bloomberg, January 13, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-13/saudis-said-to-probe-... (accessed February 15, 2019); Margherita Stancati and Summer Said, “Jailed Women’s Rights Activists Tell Saudi Investigators of Torture,” Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/jailed-womens-rights-activists-tell-saudi-i... (accessed February 15, 2019).

[107] “Saudi Persecution Denies Activist Subjected to Torture,” Al Arabiya, March 2, 2019, https://www.alarabiya.net/ar/saudi-today/2019/03/02/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D... (accessed April 4, 2019).

[108] Ben Hubbard, David D. Kirkpatrick, Kate Kelly, and Mark Mazzetti, “Saudis Said to Use Coercion and Abuse to Seize Billions,” New York Times, March 11, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/11/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-corrupt... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[109] Ben Hubbard and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Behind Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Rise, Two Loyal Enforcers,” New York Times, November 14, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-crown-p... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[110] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Saudi Arabia Is Said to Have Tortured an American Citizen,” New York Times, March 2, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/02/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-torture... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[111] Summer Said, Justin Scheck, and Bradley Hope, “Former McKinsey Executive Imprisoned by Saudis,” Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/former-mckinsey-executive-imprisoned-by-sau... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[112] Summer Said, Rory Jones, and Justin Scheck, “Saudis Release Consultant, Billionaire Imprisoned in Crackdown,” The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudis-release-ex-mckinsey-consultant-billi... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[113] “Saudi Arabia: Prominent Clerics Arrested,” Human Right Watch news release, September 15, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/15/saudi-arabia-prominent-clerics-arres... “Saudi economist who criticized Aramco IPO charged with terrorism: activists,” Reuters, October 1, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests/saudi-economist-who-cri... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[114] “Saudi Arabia: Prominent Clerics Arrested,” Human Right Watch news release, September 15, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/15/saudi-arabia-prominent-clerics-arrested.

[115] “State Security Presidency monitors intelligence activities by group of persons for benefit of foreign parties against security of Kingdom,” Saudi Press Agency, September 12, 2017, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewfullstory.php?lang=en&newsid=1665140#1665140 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[116] “Saudi clerics detained in apparent bid to silence dissent,” Reuters, September 10, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-security-arrests/saudi-clerics-... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[117] “Saudi Arabia: Cleric Held 4 Months Without Charge,” Human Rights Watch news release, January 7, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/07/saudi-arabia-cleric-held-4-months-wi....

[119] “Princes and former ministers detained in Saudi Arabia corruption probe,” Al Arabiya, November 5, 2017, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/11/05/Princes-and-former... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[120] Stephen Kalin and Katie Paul, “Future Saudi king tightens grip on power with arrests including Prince Alwaleed,” Reuters, November 5, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests/future-saudi-king-tight... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[121] Sarah Dadouch and Katie Paul, “Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed released as corruption probe winds down,” Reuters, January 27, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests-princealwaleed/saudi-bi... (accessed August 30, 2019); Kate Kelly, “Freed From a Gilded Cage, a Famed Saudi Investor Returns to the Markets,” New York Times, August 2, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/02/business/saudi-investor-alwaleed.html (accessed August 30, 2019).

[122] Ben Hubbard, David D. Kirkpatrick, Kate Kelly, and Mark Mazzetti, “Saudis Said to Use Coercion and Abuse to Seize Billions,” New York Times, March 11, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/11/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-corrupt... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[123] “Statement by the Royal Court: Anti Corruption Committee Concludes Its Tasks,” Saudi Press Agency, January 30, 2019, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewstory.php?lang=en&newsid=1880379 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[124] Ibid.

[125] Angela Dewan, Schams Elwazer and Tamara Qiblawi, “Saudi Ritz-Carlton reopens after stint as lavish prison,” CNN, February 11, 2018, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/11/middleeast/saudi-ritz-carlton-reopens... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[126] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, October 29, 2019.

[127] “Saudi Arabia: Growing Crackdown on Women’s Rights Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 23, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/23/saudi-arabia-growing-crackdown-women....

[128] “Saudi Arabia: Allow Access to Detained Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/06/saudi-arabia-allow-access-detained-w... Margherita Stancati and Summer Said, “Saudi Arabia Accused of Torturing Women’s-Rights Activists in Widening Crackdown on Dissent,” Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-arabia-accused-of-torturing-women-act... (accessed February 15, 2019); “Deposed aide to Saudi crown prince accused of role in female activists' torture,” Reuters, December 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-khashoggi-aide/deposed-aide-to-... (accessed February 15, 2019).

[129] “Saudi Arabia: Women’s Rights Activists Charged,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 1, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/01/saudi-arabia-womens-rights-activists....

[130] “The Public Prosecution Issues Statement, regarding Arrest of Individuals, by State Security,” Saudi Press Agency, March 1, 2019, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewfullstory.php?lang=en&newsid=1894009 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[131] “Saudi Public Prosecution Denies Women Detainee Subjected to Torture,” Al Arabiya, March 2, 2019, https://www.alarabiya.net/ar/saudi-today/2019/03/02/النيابة-السعودية-تنفي-تعرض-موقوفة-للتعذيب (accessed August 30, 2019).

[132] “Saudi Arabia: Abusive Charges Against Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 21, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/21/saudi-arabia-abusive-charges-against....

[133] Ibid.

[134] Karim Faheem, “Saudi Arabia temporarily releases 3 women arrested in crackdown on activists,” Washington Post, March 28, 2019, https://beta.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/saudi-arabia-temporari... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[135] “Saudi Arabia temporarily frees four women activists,” BBC, May 3, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48142640 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[136] Human Rights Watch interview with Saudi individual, July 2019.

[137] Vivian Nereim, “Saudi Lawyer Who Defended Activists Is Freed, Sources Say,” Bloomberg, December 24, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-24/saudi-lawyer-who-defe... (accessed August 30, 2019); Human Rights Watch interviews with Saudi human rights activists, January 2019.

[138] Human Rights Watch interviews with Saudi human rights activists, April 2019.

[139] Human Rights Watch interviews with Saudi human rights activists, April 2019.

[140] “Saudi Arabia: New wave of arrests and travel bans latest assault on freedom of expression,” Amnesty International, April 5, 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/04/saudi-arabia-new-wave-of-... (accessed August 30, 2019); “Professor Anas al-Mazrou at King Saud University defends the rights of women activists detained at a book fair,”, March 28, 2019, video clip, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV3bbNq7Ma4 (accessed August 30, 2019).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

Saudi Arabia: Change Comes with Punishing Cost

Arrests, Torture, Murder Accompany Reforms

(Washington, DC) – Important social reforms enacted under Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have been accompanied by deepening repression and abusive practices meant to silence dissidents and critics, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 62-page report, “‘The High Cost of Change’: Repression Under Saudi Crown Prince Tarnishes Reforms,” documents ongoing arbitrary and abusive practices by Saudi authorities targeting dissidents and activists since mid-2017 and total lack of accountability for those responsible for abuses. Human Rights Watch found that despite landmark reforms for Saudi women and youth, ongoing abuses demonstrate that the rule of law in Saudi Arabia remains weak and can be undermined at will by the country’s political leadership. 

“Mohammed bin Salman has created an entertainment sector and allowed women to travel and drive, but Saudi authorities have also locked away many of the country’s leading reformist thinkers and activists on his watch, some of whom called for these very changes,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A truly reforming Saudi Arabia would not subject its leading activists to harassment, detention, and mistreatment.”

The report is based on interviews with Saudi activists and dissidents since 2017, government statements, and court documents, as well as exhaustive reviews of Saudi local media outlets and social media.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointed his son, Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince, making him next in line to the Saudi throne and the country’s day-to-day ruler. His elevation coincided with positive changes, fostering a positive image for the crown prince on the international political scene.

Behind the glamor and pomp and the advancements for Saudi women and youth, however, lay a darker reality, as the Saudi authorities moved to sideline anyone who could stand in the way of Mohammed bin Salman’s political ascension. In the summer of 2017, around the time of his promotion to crown prince, authorities quietly reorganized the country’s prosecution service and security apparatus, the primary tools of Saudi repression, and placed them directly under the royal court’s oversight.

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Mutaib bin Abdullah detained during 2017 corruption arrest and held in Ritz
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Ahmed al-Assiri implicated in Khashoggi killing, reportedly on trial
 
 

The authorities then began a series of arrest campaigns. They targeted prominent clerics, public intellectuals, academics, and human rights activists in September 2017, leading businesspeople and royal family members accused of corruption in November 2017, and the country’s most prominent women’s rights advocates beginning in May 2018. The arrest waves were often accompanied by defamation and slander of those arrested in the country’s pro-government media.

Detaining citizens for peaceful criticism of the government’s policies or human rights advocacy is not new in Saudi Arabia, but what has made the post-2017 arrest waves notable is the sheer number and range of people targeted over a short period, and new repressive practices.

These include holding people at unofficial detention sites, such as so-called corruption detainees held at the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh from late 2017 into early 2018, and the prominent women’s rights activists held at what they described as a “hotel” or “guesthouse” during the summer of 2018. Allegations have emerged of rampant torture and mistreatment at those sites.

Abusive practices also have included long-term arbitrary detention – two years in some cases – without charge, trial, or any clear legal process. Some of the so-called corruption detainees arrested in late 2017 remain in detention without charge or trial, including Turki bin Abdullah, the son of the late King Abdullah and former governor of Riyadh, and Adel al-Fakih, a former government minister.

The authorities also targeted family members of prominent Saudi dissidents and activists, including imposing arbitrary travel bans. Omar Abdulaziz, a Canada-based Saudi dissident, said that Saudi authorities detained his two brothers in August 2018 to silence his online activism.

Other abusive practices have included extorting financial assets in exchange for releasing detainees, outside of any legal process, and seeking the death penalty for acts that do not resemble recognizable crimes. Saudi prosecutors are currently seeking the death penalty against a reformist religious thinker, Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, on vague charges relating to the expression of his peaceful religious ideas, and against a well-known cleric, Salman al-Awda, on charges stemming solely from his peaceful political statements, associations, and positions. Both were detained during the September 2017 crackdown.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly used commercially available surveillance technologies to hack into the online accounts of government critics and dissidents. Citizen Lab, an academic research center based in Canada, concluded with “high confidence” that in 2018, the mobile phone of a prominent Saudi activist based in Canada was infected with spyware. It allowed full access to a victim’s personal files, such as chats, emails, and photos, as well as the ability to surreptitiously use the phone’s microphones and cameras to view and eavesdrop.

The repressive side of the crown prince’s domestic record, however, was not given the international scrutiny it deserved until October 2018, when the violent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate shocked global opinion and led to a broader examination of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

To demonstrate that Saudi Arabia is truly reforming, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should introduce new reforms to ensure that Saudi citizens enjoy basic human rights, including freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, as well as an independent judiciary and due process of law.

The authorities can signal this commitment immediately, Human Rights Watch said, by releasing from detention everyone detained arbitrarily or on charges based solely on their peaceful ideas or expression, dropping all charges against dissidents that do not resemble recognizable crimes, and providing justice for abuses such as torture or arbitrary punishments.

“It’s not real reform in Saudi Arabia if it takes place in a dystopia where rights activists are imprisoned and freedom of expression exists just for those who publicly malign them,” Page said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Pakistan is moving to make torture a criminal offense, an important step in stemming widespread abuses by the police.

A bill submitted to parliament this week by Senator Sherry Rehman – The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act 2019 – would make torture by police a criminal offense for the first time.

A Pakistani police officer monitors the area during a Shiite Muslim's Muharram procession in Islamabad, Pakistan, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017.

© 2017 AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

While Pakistan’s constitution prohibits the use of torture for extracting evidence, domestic law currently does not actually criminalize torture. Pakistan is party to international treaties that prohibit the use of torture and other ill-treatment, notably the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In recent months, several incidents of torture and custodial death have spotlighted the pervasive culture of abuse. On September 1, Salahuddin Ayubi, arrested for theft, died in police custody. His family said he had a mental health condition. A forensic report confirmed that he had been severely beaten. In August, the Punjab anti-corruption department discovered a cell run by police officers in Lahore where suspects were kept in secret detention and tortured. The government has ordered inquiries into both incidents.

Human Rights Watch has documented the Pakistani police’s widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly during criminal investigations. Those from marginalized groups are at particular risk of abuse. Torture is typically used to obtain confessions and other information from suspects, or to extract bribes from those arbitrarily detained. Officials claim the police resort to physical force because they are not trained in sophisticated methods of investigation and forensic analysis.

In April, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairperson of the National Assembly’s committee on human rights, promised to introduce legislation to eliminate “the barbaric practice of torture.” On October 10, Dr. Shireen Mazari, the minister for human rights, acknowledged the need to put an end to the practice of torture and custodial deaths.

Pakistan needs to reform its police force to end abuse and protect detainees. This proposed law could be an important first step.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record has regretably deterioriated since its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in October 2014. Authorities cracked down on peaceful protests critical of government policies, and in mid-2016 jailed activists Maks Bokaev and Talgat Ayan each for five years for peacefully expressing their views. Following the adoption of a restrictive trade union law in 2014, authorities shut down the largest independent trade union and jailed two trade union leaders. Despite government promises to amend the trade union law, it remains unchanged. Authorities have released some imprisoned activists on parole, but politically-motivated prosecutions continued, including on the vague and overbroad charge of “inciting discord.” A court banned an opposition movement as “extremist” and authorities have targeted its supporters, including with criminal sanctions. Impunity for torture and ill-treatment in detention persist. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people continue to face discrimination. Free speech was suppressed, and independent journalists harassed or prosecuted for their work. Kazakhstan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but children with disabilities do not enjoy quality, inclusive education. Kazakh authorities strictly control freedom of religion under a 2011 religion law.

Civil Society

Following its second UPR in 2014, Kazakhstan accepted several recommendations to clearly define in law the criminal offense of “incitement to national, ethnic or racial enmity or discord.”  Yet, Kazakh authorities have taken no steps to narrow the vague and overbroad criminal charge of “inciting discord,” and instead continue to misuse overbroad criminal legislation in an attempt to silence government critics. According to the Prosecutor General’s office, 57 people were charged with “inciting discord” in the first half of 2018.

In March 2019, authorities placed activist Serikjan Bilash under house arrest on suspicion of “inciting national discord.” Bilash is an ethnic Kazakh activist and head of the Atajurt human rights group, which documents abuse and arbitrary detention of Turkic Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs, in Xinjiang, China. If convicted, Bilash faces up to 10 years in prison. In March 2018, authorities charged Shymkent-based activist Ardak Ashim with “inciting discord” for her critical social media posts, and forced her into court-sanctioned psychiatric detention for treatment. After two months, in May 2018, a court ruled to excuse her from criminal liability and freed her from detention.

Authorities imprisoned Maks Bokaev and Talgat Ayan, activists who peacefully protested against proposed land code amendments in May 2016, for five years on multiple spurious criminal charges, including “inciting social discord.” In April 2018, authorities released Ayan on parole. In September 2018, authorities transferred Bokaev to a prison in Aktobe, a thousand kilometers closer to his home, making it easier for family visitations. However Bokaev remains unjustly imprisoned.

Authorities have also used Criminal Code Article 274, which broadly prohibits “disseminating knowingly false information,” to try and silence critics. For example, in July 2018, authorities in Pavlodar opened a criminal investigation on charges of “disseminating knowingly false information” against the human rights activist Elena Semenova, and placed her under house arrest. Semenova had earlier in July given testimony to European Parliament members (MEPs) in Strasbourg about prison conditions. In December 2018, authorities withdrew the charges and closed the case.

During its previous UPR, Kazakhstan accepted several recommendations to guarantee a flourishing civil society and to respect freedom of association. However, the Law on Public Association continues to require all public associations to register with the Ministry of Justice. In December 2015, amendments to nongovernmental organization-related legislation were passed into law, imposing burdensome reporting obligations and state regulation of funding through a government-appointed body. People engaging in activities in unregistered organisations may face administrative and criminal sanctions.

In March 2018, a court banned the unregistered opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), finding the group’s activities “extremist.” Since then, authorities increased harassment of perceived or actual DVK supporters. Several individuals were prosecuted or faced charges for allegedly supporting or financing the banned opposition group, including Murat Tungishbaev, an activist wrongfully extradited from Kyrgyzstan in August 2018, having been charged in April 2018 with financing DVK. The investigation is ongoing.

Recommendations

  • Release civil society activist Max Bokayev convicted after protesting land reform proposals, and quash his conviction. Also quash the conviction of Talgat Ayan;
  • Amend Criminal Code article 174 on “inciting social, national, clan, racial, class, or religious discord” by narrowing it to prevent arbitrary prosecutions that violate human rights norms;
  • Repeal Criminal Code Article 274, which broadly prohibits ‘disseminating knowingly false information;”
  • Immediately release Murat Tungishbaev and Serikjan Bilash in the absence of being able to promptly bring any legitimate charges on the basis of credible evidence of wrongdoing;
  • Implement the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, review the Law on Public Association to ensure compliance with international human rights standards;
  • Put an end to all forms of arbitrary detention, reprisals and harassment against human rights activists, civil society organisations, and political opposition movements, including against actual or perceived supporters of DVK.

Media Restrictions

During its previous UPR, Kazakhstan accepted many recommendations to take “measures to ensure freedom of expression and independence of the media,” and to stop the practice of blocking opposition print publication and online resources. Delegations also recommended that Kazakhstan decriminalize defamation and libel.

To date, independent and opposition journalists in Kazakhstan face harassment, arbitrary detention, and spurious criminal prosecutions. Authorities block websites, including social media. Each year, AdilSoz, a local media watchdog, records dozens of detentions, arrests, convictions, or limits on freedoms of journalists. In March 2018, the Almaty city prosecutor’s office opened a criminal investigation on “disseminating knowingly false information,” into Forbes Kazakhstan and Ratel.kz, an analytical news portal, and interrogated journalists. In March 2018, an Almaty court preliminarily approved blocking Ratel.kz and its affiliated websites. Both cases are ongoing. That same month, a court denied parole to Aset Mataev, an imprisoned journalist, despite his eligibility after serving one-third of his six-year prison sentence. In April 2018, a problematic media and information law amendments entered into force. The new law undermines investigative reporting and limits access to state-held information.

Recommendations

  • End the harassment and reprisals against independent and critical journalists and end arbitrary blocking of websites, including social media;
  • Review amendments to the media and information law which entered into force in 2018 with a view to making the law compatible with international standards on freedom of the media and speech;
  • Place a moratorium on criminal libel, take all necessary steps to abolish the relevant articles in the Criminal Code relating to criminal libel, and establish a cap on civil defamation awards.

Freedom of assembly

During its previous UPR, Kazakhstan accepted recommendations to “ensure that the right to peaceful assembly is not hindered.” Delegations also recommended that Kazakhstan remove restrictions on freedom of assembly.

Kazakh authorities have taken no steps to lift significant restrictions in law and practice on the right to peaceful assembly. Following a visit to Kazakhstan the then-United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, concluded that “In practice, the [Kazakh] Government’s approach to regulating assemblies renders that right meaningless.” Authorities routinely deny permits for peaceful protests against government policies. Police break up even single-person unauthorized protests, and arbitrarily detain organizers and participants. 

On May 10, 2018, for example, police detained dozens of people in cities across the country peacefully protesting against torture and politically motivated imprisonment. In June 2018, a court in Taldikorgan sentenced a man to three days’ arrest for his unsanctioned protest against police abuse. On February 27, 2019, police detained hundreds of people in multiple cities in Kazakhstan who had tried to protest outside venues where the ruling political party, Nur Otan, was holding its annual conference.

Recommendations

  • Amend laws regulating peaceful assembly so that they are consistent with international standards on peaceful assembly;
  • Put an end to all forms of arbitrary detention of people attempting to exercise their freedom of peaceful assembly in Kazakhstan.

Torture

During its last UPR, Kazakhstan accepted multiple recommendatrions to take a zero-tolerance approach to torture and to investigate complaints related to torture and other ill-treatment. Yet impunity for torture and ill treatment of prisoners and suspects remain the norm. Seven years after violent clashes brought an end to an extended oil sector labor strike in Zhanaozen in 2011, Kazakh authorities have failed to credibly investigate the torture allegations made by those subsequently detained and prosecuted.

In early 2018, Iskander Yerimbetov, a businessmen tied to Mukhtar Ablyazov, an exiled former banker and government critic, credibly alleged ill-treatment and torture in detention. Yerimbetov was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of large-scale fraud. After public outcry, including petitions by human rights groups to Kazakhstan’s Prosecutor General, authorities opened a preliminary investigation into his allegations. In May, however, the Almaty prosector’s office claimed they found no evidence of a crime and closed the case.

Recommendations

  • Comply with its pledges to take a zero-tolerance approach to torture and ensure that any allegations of ill-treatment or torture, including those made in regarding the Zhanaozen events, are fully investigated and the perpetrators held accountable;
  • Review the case of Iskander Yerimbetov in light of the conclusions of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which found in December 2018 that Yerimbetov’s detention was “arbitrary.”

Freedom of Religion

Rather than address recommendations made during its last UPR to “undertake a thorough review of the 2011 Law on Religious Associations” and allow groups to exercise their right to freedom of religious belief without interference, Kazakhstan took no steps to amend the religion law, and instead, throughout 2018 considered amendments to the law that would have imposed further restrictions and sanctions on religious teaching, proselytizing, and publications. Rights and religious groups expressed concern. In January 2019, the government withdrew the proposed amendments from consideration, but provided no explanation.

The religious freedom watchdog Forum 18 has said that in 2018, authorities brought 165 administrative cases against individuals or religious communities, leading to fines or short-term bans on worship, in violation of their right to freedom of religion or belief. Twelves other individuals were criminally convicted, including on charges of “organizing activities of a banned religious organization.” Of the twelve, five were imprisoned, while the others were handed suspended sentences.

Recommendations

  • Review the 2011 religion law with a view to ensure that it fully conforms with the country’s constitution and international human rights standards and abandon any amendments to the religion law that would further restrict freedom of religion and belief in Kazakhstan;
  • Conduct a thorough review of any convictions handed down in violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Labor Rights

During the previous UPR cycle, delegations recommended that the Kazakh government “repeal parts of the trade union law that unduly restrict freedom of association” and “abolish the requirement of mandatory registrations and memberships in umbrella associations and trade unions.” Despite a government pledge (as articulated in a roadmap agreed upon following a high-level tripartite mission to Kazakhstan by the International Labor Organization in May 2018), the authorities have taken no meaningful steps to restore freedom of association rights for independent trades unions in 2018 or introduce amendments to the trade union law.

Instead, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK), shuttered by court order in 2017, remains closed. In May 2018, Nurbek Kushakbaev and Amin Eleusinov, trade union activists imprisoned in 2017 on politically motivated charges, were released on parole, but they remain banned from trade union activities. Larisa Kharkova, the former KNPRK president, similarly remains banned from leading trade unions. In September 2018, authorities in Shymkent opened a spurious criminal case against Erlan Baltabay, another outspoken trade union activist who spoke publicly about harassment at the International Labor Conference in June 2018. In August and September 2018, the Ministry of Justice refused to register a new confederation, the Congress of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan. Worker strikes continue to take place outside legal norms exposing workers to harassment and possible prosecution.

Recommendations

  • End the crackdown on independent trade unions and lift restrictions on their activities, cease politically motivated criminal prosecutions of trade union leaders, including of Erlan Baltabay, quash the convictions of Larissa Kharkova, Nurbek Kushakbaev, and Amin Eleusinov, and allow them to resume their trade union activities without interference or harassment;
  • Revise the 2014 Trade Union Law and 2015 Labor Code to bring them into compliance with International Labour Organization (ILO) standards.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

During its previous UPR, Kazakhstan accepted a recommendation to “enact specific legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” However, harassment, discrimination, and the threat of violence affect the everyday lives of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in Kazakhstan. LGBT people are faced with hostility behind the closed doors of private homes, and in public places, such as in parks and outside nightclubs. State institutions fail to provide consistent care and protection. In the rare cases when victims report abuses or seek social services, official responses are inadequate. In many cases, the abuses suffered by LGBT people are shrouded in shame due to widespread antipathy toward sexual and gender diversity.

Recommendations

  • Adopt and enact legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation;
  • Ensure that reports of abuse, threat, or harassment against people on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation are thoroughly investigated and those responsible held to account;
  • Amend Kazakhstan’s gender recognition procedures to allow transgender people to change their legal gender on all documents through a process of self-declaration that is free of medical procedures or coercion.

Children with Disabilities

During its last UPR, Kazakhstan accepted eight recommendations regarding the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and one recommendation to “take necessary steps to provide children with disabilities access to quality education.”

Notably, in April 2015, Kazakhstan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Kazakh government commited to expanding inclusive education, whereby children with and without disabilities study together. However progress is slow and the majority of children with disabilities still cannot access inclusive, quality education on an equal basis with others. A key barrier to inclusive education is a medical commission, known as the Psychological-Medical-Pedagogical Consultation (PMPK), which assesses children to determine what kind of education children with disabilities get. The PMPK usually recommends that children with disabilities receive their education at home, with a teacher visiting several times a week, or that they attend special schools or separate classrooms in mainstream schools, segregated from their communities. Children with disabilities in neurological psychiatric institutions receive little or no education at all.

Recommendations

  • Guarantee that persons with disabilities can access quality inclusive education in the communities where they live, on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of reasonable accommodations;
  • Transform PMPKs and ensure that children with disabilities are not required to have a PMPK conclusion to attend mainstream schools in their communities.

Asylum Seekers and Refugees

In July 2018, a court stopped the deportation to China of an ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizen, Sayragul Sauytbai, a primary school teacher who spoke publicly about China’s abusive “political reeducation” camps in Xinjiang. Sauytbai had fled China in early 2018. In October, Kazakhstan denied her asylum.

Recommendation

  • Strictly observe the principle of non-refoulement which prohibits the forced return of people at risk of being tortured or ill-treated to their countries of origin, or to another destination where they would face similar risk.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Presidency of the Federal Court of Cassation of Baghdad

© 2019 SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Image

(Beirut) – A close study of appeals court decisions in terrorism-related cases in Iraq shows that judges in close to two dozen cases in an 18-month period appeared to ignore torture allegations or to rely on uncorroborated confessions, Human Rights Watch said today. Some of the torture allegations had been substantiated by forensic medical exams, and some of the confessions were unsubstantiated by any other evidence and were apparently extracted by force, including by torture.

In each of these cases, the trial courts took the torture allegations seriously, found them credible, assessed the evidence, and acquitted the defendants. These cases show that gaps in Iraq’s criminal justice system extend to the highest level. Under international law, courts should never rely on evidence obtained by torture. Member states of the Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS (also known as the Islamic State), who are meeting on September 26, 2019 on the margins of the UN General Assembly session in New York to discuss accountability measures for ISIS crimes, should agree not to transfer ISIS suspects from Syria to Iraq until the Iraqi justice system can ensure that criminal prosecutions meet international fair trial standards and until the government imposes a death penalty moratorium.

“Our investigation into a large number of Iraq’s court rulings found what may be repeated miscarriages of justice in terrorism cases,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “How can Iraqi lawyers and counterterrorism judges stand by and watch this unfold?”

Human Rights Watch reviewed the appeals court case files in 27 decisions issued between September 2018 and March 2019 by the Federal Court of Cassation’s criminal committee. In 21 cases, the appeals court overruled the trial court’s acquittal and ordered retrials; in two cases, it upheld the acquittal; and in four cases, it upheld the trial court’s conviction but increased the sentences. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the outcome of the cases following retrial.

Of the 27 terrorism cases, 23 were prosecuted under Iraq’s counterterrorism law, three under the penal code, and one under the Weaponry Law No. 51 of 2017. The veracity of the court documents was confirmed by an independent Iraqi legal expert.

Criminal courts in Iraq are divided into courts for serious offenses, here referred to as “criminal courts,” and courts of minor offenses. The public prosecution, defendant, and complainant each have the right to appeal an acquittal, conviction, or sentence in a criminal court ruling. Appeals are heard by the criminal committee, consisting of a presiding judge and a minimum of four other judges, within the Federal Court of Cassation in Baghdad. The criminal committee automatically reviews all cases with a sentence of 25 years, life imprisonment, or death. The committee may uphold a decision or overrule it and return the case to the trial court for a retrial or a repeat judicial investigation.

In six cases, the defendants alleged at trials that investigators had tortured or otherwise coerced them into making a confession. The criminal committee overruled the acquittals and ordered retrials, relying on the recanted confession and mentioning evidence either not considered during the defendant’s trial or dismissed as unreliable. In two cases, the confession was the sole evidence. It was unclear from court documents whether trial judges had investigated those who had allegedly tortured or otherwise coerced the defendants, or if judicial investigators, police, or the public prosecution conducted criminal investigations into the allegations of torture and other crimes toward defendants who had made a complaint.

In two cases, the defendant submitted a forensic medical report that found signs he had been “subjected to external force,” yet the criminal committee ignored or dismissed the report. In one case, the criminal committee stated, “What the defendant’s medical report mentions does not affect the value of the evidence available in the case,” though the allegedly coerced confession was the only evidence presented at the trial.

While the issue of torture was not explicitly raised in seven cases, criminal courts in Anbar, Karkh, and Kirkuk acquitted defendants because no evidence was presented beyond their confessions, the case files showed. In each case, the criminal committee found that the disputed confession was sufficient evidence to proceed with the charges, and ordered a retrial.

These cases raise concern, particularly in light of comments made by an Iraqi judicial expert and two experts on Iraqi law and on terrorism cases. They all said that in their experience, when the criminal committee overruled an acquittal and ordered a retrial, it was sending a clear message that the trial court should change its ruling. They said that these retrials could not be seen as a neutral judicial order to reassess the facts of the case, but rather an implicit order to find the defendant guilty.

Human Rights Watch wrote to Iraq’s chief justice on June 10, 2019 with the findings. The High Judicial Council, which manages and supervises the federal judiciary’s affairs, responded on June 20, asking for the details of the cases reviewed, which Human Rights Watch provided on June 26. It also stated that, “independent experts were unable to properly assess the decisions taken by the distinguished judges at the Federal Court of Cassation because they lacked the appropriate expertise.” On July 18, it shared with Human Rights Watch an order from the chief justice to examine the cases Human Rights Watch shared but had not provided more information by the time of publication.

In line with international legal standards and Iraqi criminal procedures, Iraq’s High Judicial Council should issue guidelines obliging judges to investigate all credible allegations of torture and the security forces responsible, and to transfer detainees to different facilities immediately after they allege torture or ill-treatment, to protect them from retaliation. It should reiterate to judges that they are obliged to dismiss any evidence obtained by torture. Judicial authorities should investigate and determine who was responsible for any torture, punish abusive officers, and compensate the victim.

The High Judicial Council should immediately review all terrorism-related decisions issued by the criminal committee since the beginning of 2018, followed by consideration based on the result as to whether a full review since 2005 is necessary, and remedy any miscarriages of justice that it identifies.

The authorities should also ensure that there is a clear legal basis for detentions; that all detainees have access to legal counsel, including during interrogation; that they appear before a judge within 24 hours of their initial detention and at regular intervals thereafter, with the judge determining the legality and necessity of their continuing detention; and that detainees are moved to facilities accessible to government inspection, and with regular access by independent monitors and relatives.

The US-led coalition and other countries with nationals facing potential terrorism trials in Iraq should press the High Judicial Council to share the findings of any review it conducts into Iraq’s Federal Court of Cassation and ensure implementation of reforms to address the serious flaws raised in this report.

“This investigation shows that detainees in Iraq face a significant risk of unfair trial at every stage of the criminal justice process,” Fakih said. “The High Judicial Council needs to take a very close look at the terrorism-related decisions of the criminal committee.”

Background

As of early 2018, Iraq authorities were holding an estimated 19,000 men and boys on charges of ISIS affiliation. Authorities have not responded to Human Rights Watch’s repeated requests to share updated statistics on those in custody. As of early 2019, according to an Iraqi security official, the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria were holding an estimated 20,000 Iraqis detained during fighting against ISIS, as well as over 2,000 non-Iraqis who are at risk of being transferred to Iraq for investigation and possible prosecution as ISIS members. At least 900 Iraqis with alleged links to ISIS have already been transferred from northeast Syria to Iraq in recent months.

Given the findings, and the risk of torture and unfair trials leading to the death penalty, neither the Syrian Kurdish forces nor any country should transfer detainees to Iraq for prosecution for terrorism or related crimes. Despite extensive credible reports of torture in detention, Iraqi judges routinely do not investigate these allegations.

Flaws in the Federal Court of Cassation

While the defendants’ arrest dates were not cited in most cases, one showed that the defendant had been arrested in March 2016 but only brought to trial in June 2017. The criminal committee overruled his acquittal in September 2018. While one case went from the trial to the appeals stage in just under six weeks, some cases took as long as a year or more. Two cases tried in 2018 related to crimes allegedly committed in 2006.

The right to a fair trial and the absolute prohibition of torture are set out in human rights treaties ratified by Iraq, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture. Key guarantees include that courts should not consider any evidence obtained by torture; that no defendant should be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt; and that defendants should have adequate time to prepare their defense, be able to consider and challenge the evidence and witnesses used against them, and present their own evidence and witnesses.

In March 2019, the Interior Ministry endorsed new Standard Operating Procedures for criminal investigations. These include articles to strengthen the defense, including by ensuring defense lawyers’ access to detained clients, case files, and interview records. The Interior Ministry should ensure that investigators are fully trained on the procedures and that they are put into practice across all detention facilities and during all investigations.

Torture Allegations

In October 2017, a man went on trial at Anbar Criminal Court for ISIS affiliation in 2014 in Fallujah, according to his case file. The defendant recanted his confession, saying he had been tortured. Witnesses testified that he had no links to ISIS. The court acquitted him, but the criminal committee overruled the acquittal in October 2018, finding that the confession was credible, and ordered a retrial. It found that, “the accused has confessed during the investigation and in the presence of all legal guarantees of committing the crime. Therefore, the evidence against him as previously described is sufficient and convincing enough to convict and sentence him.” It said nothing about the torture allegation.

In November 2018, the Karkh branch of the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad acquitted a man accused of complicity in the murder of an Iraqi Security Forces officer and of injuring others in 2013. The court ruled that his confession, the sole evidence, was not enough to convict him, citing an attendance sheet showing that he had been in a university class at the time of the incident, and witnesses who stated the same. The defendant said he had been coerced into confessing, and presented a forensic medical report finding that he had been “subjected to external force.”

The Federal Court of Cassation’s criminal committee found in March 2019 that the confession had been “clear and detailed” and cited statements made almost five years after the attack by other two officers who had been present at the time of attack. It stated that the forensic medical report findings did not affect “all the other evidence” and ordered a retrial.

In January 2018, the Anbar Criminal Court tried a man for ISIS affiliation and participation in two specific terrorist attacks. The defendant recanted his confession, stating he had been tortured, and the court, determining that there was no other evidence of his alleged links to ISIS, acquitted him.

The criminal committee overruled the decision in November and ordered a retrial, finding that the confession was credible because the defendant made it in the presence of the general prosecutor and his state-appointed lawyer, and citing statements made by plaintiffs not mentioned during the trial. It added that, “his confession was not refuted by any medical report that confirmed that his confession was forced,” and did not address the torture allegations deemed credible by the trial court anywhere within the decision.

According to the case file, in February 2018, a man charged with ISIS affiliation at the Anbar Criminal Court stated that he had been tortured into confessing. His brother, a juvenile in custody and accused of another crime, testified against him. The court said that it could not rely on his brother’s statement because he was a juvenile himself on trial, and that it was suspicious that his own confession to investigators was identical – word for word – to the confession he later made to the investigative judge. It reasoned:

After careful consideration of the facts of the case and evidence obtained in it, the court found that the accused’s statements given to the investigator and the investigative judge were the same, word-for-word, and that the statements given by the accused as a witness, and who is the brother of the accused mentioned above, cannot be accepted since it came from a juvenile defendant, hence it cannot be admitted as evidence in a capital crime.

The criminal committee overruled the decision, finding both the defendant’s confession and his brother’s statements credible, and ordered a retrial.

In January 2019, the Karkh court acquitted a man charged with ISIS affiliation, the case file shows. He recanted his confession at trial and presented a forensic medical report in which the doctor had found that he had been subjected to “external force.” A witness who had implicated the defendant as a member of ISIS also recanted. The court acquitted him for lack of evidence. In April, the criminal committee overruled the acquittal and ordered a retrial, referencing the defendant’s confession while ignoring the forensic medical report, and also relying on the retracted witness statement and two security agency reports that were not mentioned at trial.

On April 1, 2019, Iraq’s High Judicial Council told Human Rights Watch that Iraqi courts had investigated 275 complaints against investigative officers by the end of 2018 in both terrorism and non-terrorism cases. The High Judicial Council stated that 176 of the cases have been “resolved,” while 99 cases were still being addressed. The council did not indicate what the term “resolved” meant in this context, nor how many of the 176 cases were being further investigated or had been dismissed.

Confession-based Prosecution

In one case in which the criminal committee ordered a retrial solely on the basis of a confession, in February 2019, it found that:

The decision issued by the Karkh Criminal Court to drop the charge against the accused and release him is incorrect and against the law as the accused had explicitly, and with the availability of all legal guarantees consisting of the presence of the deputy public prosecutor and the appointed lawyer, confessed to the crime. The accused confessed to belonging to a terrorist group and to have continued supporting it. Therefore, there is sufficient and convincing evidence to convict him. 

In two cases, the additional evidence mentioned by the criminal committee was a single witness statement against the defendant that had not been presented at his trial. In a November 2018 case, the Risafa branch of the Central Criminal Court acquitted a man accused of selling weapons to the Islamic State because his confession was the sole piece of evidence against him. The criminal committee said a witness statement that had not been considered at trial was enough to substantiate the charges and ordered a retrial. In two other cases, the additional evidence the criminal committee relied on was a witness statement that did not implicate the defendant.

Extended Sentences

In four of the 23 cases in which defendants were convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 of 2005, two received 15-year sentences and two life sentences. Upon appeal by the prosecution in two cases in an effort to increase the sentences, and the automatic appeal in the life sentence cases, the criminal committee ordered an unspecified increase in sentencing which in the case of life sentences could only be death. The committee said the initial sentences had been too light. One of the cases involved an elderly man sentenced to 15 years because of his age who was accused of working in a Mosul mosque and of pledging support to ISIS in religious speeches.

In two of the 27 cases, the criminal committee upheld a decision to acquit the defendants, in one case based on the defendant’s claim that he had been coerced into confessing. It was unclear from the court documents whether the judges initiated any investigations into the allegations of coercion.

Exonerating Evidence

In December 2018, according to court documents, the Karkh branch of the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad acquitted three men charged under the penal code for detonating a car bomb targeting Iraqi Security Forces in 2005. All three men recanted their confessions and the court said it had evidence that US forces had been behind the explosion and had claimed responsibility. It also found that the men’s confessions diverged from one another’s significantly. In March 2019, the criminal committee overruled the acquittals, saying the men had confessed to Al Qaeda membership in the presence of a prosecutor and their appointed lawyer, and ordered a retrial. It stated that: 

Upon examination and deliberation, it is evident from the facts of the case that the defendants have explicitly confessed to belonging to the terrorist Al Qaeda group and to carrying out several terrorist attacks, one of which is the crime at hand, in the presence of a member of the public prosecution and the appointed attorney. Their confessions were consistent with the course of the investigation, and the bomb being detonated by American troops does not affect the accused’s confessions. Therefore, there is sufficient and convincing evidence to convict them. 

In December 2018, the Karkh Criminal Court acquitted two men who were accused of detonating a bomb in 2011, court documents show, because both defendants recanted their confessions, which had been inconsistent. In addition, witnesses to the attack stated that both defendants had nothing to do with it. The court stated in its decision to acquit that:

Statements given by the injured complainants... show that they did not complain against the accused regarding this crime since they had nothing to do with the incident and since they already knew them as they are from the same area.... The court found that the evidence against the accused amounted only to their confessions written during the investigation, which they recanted. The court also found that the confessions were not validated by any legally admissible evidence. In addition to that, the court found that the confessions given by both accused were inconsistent with each other.

The criminal committee cited the confessions and the exonerating witness statements, overruling the acquittal and ordering a retrial.

Guilt by Association

In August 2018, the Karkh Criminal Court acquitted the only woman among the 27, who was charged with ISIS affiliation based on her husband’s membership. The criminal committee found that her acknowledgment that her husband had joined ISIS, and fake documentation she had while trying to smuggle herself to Turkey after he was killed, constituted enough evidence to convict her on terrorism charges and ordered a retrial. It reasoned: 

The accused had confessed during investigation, with the availability of legal guarantees, that she is the wife of a member of the terrorist group ISIS, and that after her husband was killed by the Peshmerga… an individual called her in order to transport them to Turkey, and she was given a fake civil identity card. They headed to Baghdad and were received by a defendant who owns a guesthouse and transports families from the ISIS terrorist group to safe areas. He took their photos and prepared fake IDs for the purpose of smuggling them out of Iraq, where they were arrested upon their attempt. Her confession was validated by witness statements of the arresting contingent and other witness statements, and the circumstantial evidence consisting of finding fakes IDs of the defendant. Therefore, there is sufficient and convincing evidence to convict and sentence her for the crime. 

The criminal committee ruled that the fact that she was married to an ISIS member and had attempted to leave Iraq using false documentation was enough to secure a conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Law. If prosecuted for the crime of false documentation, the woman would have faced a sentence of as little as six months, But because she was tried under the Anti-Terrorism Law, she was instead potentially facing a sentence of up to 25 years in prison for being an accessory to a crime. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Hassan al-Dika 

© Private
(Beirut) – Lebanese judicial authorities failed to investigate serious torture allegations made by Hassan al-Dika prior to his death in custody, Human Rights Watch said today, on the two-year anniversary of the passage of an anti-torture law.

Internal Security Forces (ISF) officers arrested al-Dika, 44, on November 1, 2018 on drug-related charges. Al-Dika alleged that ISF officers subjected him to repeated beatings and electric shocks, suspended him in stress positions, and forced him to confess, including in notes he allegedly smuggled out of prison. Prison authorities transferred him to a hospital on April 2, 2019 due to his deteriorating health, which his family said resulted from torture in ISF detention. He died in the hospital on May 11.

“The prosecutor’s failure to investigate Hassan al-Dika’s allegations underscores serious failings in how Lebanon’s judiciary is handling torture complaints,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The procedures in the anti-torture law are intended to safeguard the evidence and provide accountability for the crime of torture. Yet two years on, we have yet another case in which authorities failed to follow the law.”

On July 31, in response to a Human Rights Watch letter inquiring about the investigation into al-Dika’s death and torture complaints, Justice Minister Albert Serhan sent Human Rights Watch a copy of the investigation results compiled by the acting cassation prosecutor following al-Dika’s death.

The report stated that the ISF’s Central Criminal Investigations Department conducted the investigation, although the anti-torture law prohibits security agencies from carrying out torture investigations. An investigation by the ISF into actions committed by its own officers is neither independent nor impartial, Human Rights Watch said.

Toufic al-Dika, Hassan al-Dika’s father, who was also acting as his lawyer, filed a complaint with the public prosecutor on November 21, 2018 alleging that his son had been tortured. Instead of referring the complaint to an investigative judge within 48 hours as required under the anti-torture law, the public prosecutor sent it to the ISF, whose officers allegedly committed the torture.

The public prosecutor also did not appoint a forensic medical examiner within 48 hours of receiving the complaint on November 21 as the law requires. Ghassan Moukheiber, a former member of parliament and architect of the anti-torture law, told Human Rights Watch that he met with the public prosecutor in November after Hassan al-Dika’s father submitted the torture complaint to her, urged her to appoint a doctor to examine al-Dika, and that she refused. When he cited the anti-torture law, Moukheiber said, the public prosecutor told him that “she had not seen the law.” On May 12, the investigative judge who issued al-Dika’s arrest warrant also said that that the public prosecutor had not agreed to appoint a forensic doctor to examine al-Dika. The public prosecutor claimed in response that she had authorized al-Dika’s transfer to the hospital and ordered a medical committee to examine al-Dika, but she did so many months after the torture complaint.

On November 23, another public prosecutor authorized Toufic al-Dika to appoint a medical examiner “at his own expense.” Al-Dika’s family appointed a physician and psychiatrist to examine him. Both reported that al-Dika was suffering from serious physical and psychological trauma as a result of abuse. The authorities subsequently claimed that the physician had written a false report, but the psychiatrist’s findings alone should have prompted the authorities to investigate the torture allegations. Despite the psychiatrist’s compelling medical findings, the public prosecution still did not refer the complaint to the judiciary as mandated by law.

While the acting cassation prosecutor’s investigation report, compiled on July 27, after al-Dika’s death, states that a sergeant and nurse examined him upon his transfer to pretrial detention at the Baabda Justice Palace on November 9, as did a physician from the ISF on November 19 who found a number of contusions on al-Dika’s shoulders and right arm, government statements immediately after al-Dika’s death do not reference those medical examinations. While an ISF statement on May 12 disputes the findings of the physician appointed by al-Dika’s family, it does not indicate that other examinations were conducted.

On December 10, Toufic al-Dika filed another torture complaint directly with the investigative judge, enclosing both reports from the physician and psychiatrist he appointed. Both Toufic al-Dika and Moukheiber told Human Rights Watch that the clerk at the judge’s office initially refused to register the complaint. They also alleged that when the investigative judge finally registered the complaint on February 27, he shared details of the complaint with ISF officers.

Subsequently, Toufic al-Dika told Human Rights Watch that he received threats to his life that he deemed serious, compelling him to withdraw both complaints on March 20. The anti-torture law requires the authorities to ensure the protection of the person filing the complaint from ill-treatment and intimidation.

On January 25, three specialized United Nations experts sent a letter to the Lebanese government expressing grave concern about the alleged arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment of al-Dika.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed concern on May 14, following Hassan al-Dika’s death, about the judiciary’s failure to investigate al-Dika’s original allegations of torture, and called for a “thorough, effective, and independent investigation” into his death.

Human Rights Watch also found that the ISF and the public prosecution committed serious due process violations, notably by arresting al-Dika outside the permissible hours and apparently falsifying the date of al-Dika’s arrest.

Human Rights Watch has routinely documented credible reports of torture in Lebanon. However, authorities have failed to properly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security services, and justice for torture in detention remains elusive. Ziad Itani, a well-known actor exonerated of spying for Israel, has described in detail his forced disappearance and torture in detention at the hands of State Security in November 2017. Despite filing a lawsuit against the individuals involved in his torture in November 2018, there has been little movement on his case.

As a party to the Convention against Torture, Lebanon is required to take effective measures to prevent torture, investigate credible allegations of torture, and hold accountable anyone found guilty of committing torture with appropriate penalties that take into account the gravity of the crime.

Lebanon should allocate a sufficient budget for the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture and accept the pending request of the UN special rapporteur on torture to visit Lebanon, submitted on February 13, 2017.

“There is absolutely no excuse when prosecutors and judges continue to ignore the provisions of the anti-torture law,” Fakih said. “Lebanon needs to step up its efforts to combat torture and ensure that anyone found responsible for misconduct in Hassan al-Dika’s case is held accountable.”

Due Process Violations During Hassan al-Dika’s Arrest

Toufic al-Dika told Human Rights Watch that at around 9:30 p.m. on November 1, 2018 more than 50 armed and uniformed ISF officers stormed the building where he and his son Hassan lived in separate apartments, and arrested his son, Hassan al-Dika, without presenting an arrest warrant, even when Toufic asked them to do so.

The father said that he did not hear from his son until two days later when Hassan was allowed to make a brief phone call. He was not allowed to see his family or a lawyer until the ISF transferred him to the Baabda Justice Palace pretrial detention facility on November 9. The authorities subsequently transferred him to Roumieh Prison and then to Aley Prison.

Under Lebanese law, police are not allowed to enter a suspect’s home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. Unless a suspect is discovered in the act of committing a crime, police also cannot detain him without the public prosecutor’s prior approval. Article 47 of the Lebanese Code of Criminal Procedure also guarantees detained suspects the right to contact a person of their choosing, to meet with a lawyer, and to request a medical examination as soon as they are arrested. Arresting officers must inform detained suspects of these rights promptly upon arrest.

Pre-charge detention must not exceed 48 hours and can be renewed once for another 48 hours with the public prosecutor’s consent. In the investigation report that the Ministry of Justice sent to Human Rights Watch, the public prosecution claimed that the ISF arrested al-Dika on November 3, instead of November 1, and that the investigation with him concluded on November 5, after which the ISF referred his case to the public prosecution. ISF records compiled at the time of al-Dika’s arrest and interrogation, which Toufic shared with Human Rights Watch, indicate that al-Dika was arrested on November 1, not November 3.

The ISF stated that al-Dika remained at the ISF Information Branch until November 9 due to the lack of vacant pretrial detention places at the Baabda Justice Palace.

Officers found to have breached rules regarding the detention of a suspect are criminally liable for unlawful detention. The judiciary should ensure that an independent investigation is conducted into the allegations, and hold the responsible officers to account, Human Rights Watch said.

Hassan al-Dika’s Account of Torture

Human Rights Watch saw notes that Toufic al-Dika alleges his son Hassan al-Dika wrote during his pretrial detention at the Baabda Justice Palace, and smuggled out on cigarette cartons. In the notes, Hassan al-Dika described his ordeal at the ISF’s Information Branch. This account is consistent with reporting about Hassan’s case prior to his death.

He wrote that upon his arrest on the evening of Thursday, November 1, he was taken to a police building in the neighborhood of Ain El-Remmeneh, where he was kept overnight. The next morning, he was taken to the Information Branch, where officers handcuffed and blindfolded him, and forced him to remove his clothes. He stated that officers made him wait in a dark room “smaller than a toilet” for 15 minutes and then took him to a room where officers questioned him about his alleged drug smuggling. When al-Dika denied the accusations, he wrote, five officers beat him for two hours on his head, face, and stomach.  

After the beating, al-Dika wrote, officers interrogated him about his customs clearance company and his employees, and asked that he provide the requested information. He said he was then taken to a cell and left alone for two hours. Officers then entered the room and started questioning him about his alleged crime again. When he answered truthfully, he wrote, one of the officers called him a liar and officers beat him, applied electric shocks, and subjected him to the “falaka,” a form of torture that entails beating on the soles of the feet.

Al-Dika wrote that a few hours later, officers took him for interrogation again, where the torture was “on another level.” Officers beat him, including on his feet, and put him in the farrouj position, suspending him with his hands tied from an iron bar passed under his knees. Al-Dika wrote that he fainted an hour later, and when he regained consciousness, an officer told him, “Do you want to talk, or do you want to die?”

Al-Dika wrote that after that, he agreed to everything. “If they asked me whether I had killed the prophet, I would have said yes,” al-Dika wrote.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Armed forces allied to internationally recognized government fight with armed group in Tripoli, Libya September 22, 2018. 

© 2018 Hani Amara/Reuters

The scars ran deep. His back was a maze of thick welts, thinner scars and parts that resembled small craters. His wrists and ankles were raw from where he’d been shackled and suspended from a ceiling for hours, and his limbs appeared limp and stretched. His eyes were expressionless. The torture destroyed me as a person, Ali[1] said.  

Ali, 24, told me he had been tortured within an inch of his life in Benghazi. He was stopped at a checkpoint by an armed group affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA) who accused his brother of fighting against the LNA in Benghazi. No matter that his brother was 1,000 kilometers away in Tripoli. Ali said he barely made it out alive after three days of almost non-stop torture. 

Sadly, his story is not unique. During the past eight years, as Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch, I have interviewed hundreds of victims of human rights violations, or their relatives, and have visited dozens of prisons, migrant detention centers and informal detention facilities. 

The list of serious abuses is long and goes well beyond torture and arbitrary detention, including those arising from the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, the more recent conflicts in 2014 and the current conflict in Tripoli.

I have investigated the plight of thousands forcibly displaced from their homes in Tawergha by armed groups from Misrata, the vast majority of whom cannot return home; extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by groups linked with the LNA; and  sieges by the LNA that left civilians without access to food, water or medical care.

In the ongoing Tripoli conflict, there is wanton destruction of private property and indiscriminate attacks against civilians by all parties. 

Many more violations are the direct result of systemic failures of consecutive post-Gaddafi governments and their supporters during periods of peace. We visited people held in long-term arbitrary detention without judicial review, primarily because post-2011 governments failed to establish a functioning justice system. In Misrata, we interviewed torture victims in detention facilities run by the Justice Ministry, still bloodied after their ordeal. In Benghazi, we documented scores of politically motivated assassinations, including of activists and journalists, mostly by unidentified perpetrators where no one was held to account. In Tripoli, we met relatives and friends of victims of kidnapping and enforced disappearances by armed groups linked with the Government of National Accord (GNA). 

In western Libya, we uncovered widespread abuses against migrants and asylum seekers by smugglers and the GNA-linked coast guards and prison authorities. Some were held in slave-like conditions. 

Multiple armed conflicts and political rifts since 2011 have had a devastating effect on civilians. In the absence of central authority, armed groups have committed human rights crimes with impunity. Most notable are “Dignity” (Karama) the May 2014 military campaign by LNA commander General Khalifa Hiftar to take control of the eastern region to “root out terrorism,” and the ensuing war in Tripoli between competing factions, from which emerged three, then two, authorities, claiming legitimacy. 

The situation has worsened since Hiftar’s April 4 war  on Tripoli. The LNA, an armed group controlling eastern Libya and parts of the south and allied with the Interim Government, is trying to wrest control of western Libya from the competing, internationally recognized Government of National Accord. Over 100 civilians have been killed, thousands more displaced, and civilian infrastructure has been damaged. 

Despite the magnitude of the human rights crimes in Libya, attempts to hold wrongdoers to account, in domestic and international courts, and through sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council, have failed to break the cycle of impunity. 

Few cases have been heard by civil and military courts in Libya. The post-Gaddafi interim government, strongly supported by the UN and western governments, did not prioritize a functioning justice system. So thousands of people in east and west of the country remained in long-term abusive arbitrary detention without a hearing. Domestic courts, affected by political divisions and armed conflict, are barely functional, with procedures hampered by grave due process violations, including forced confessions, ill treatment, and lack of access to lawyers. In some areas, including the south, the criminal justice system has collapsed. Lawyers, judges and prosecutors are also prime targets of militias.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a mandate to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Libya yet the prosecutor has issued only one arrest warrant since 2011: against Mahmoud el-Werfalli, a commander linked to the LNA, for extrajudicial executions. 

The UN sanctions have been underused: only eight people have been listed for individual targeted sanctions since the 2011 revolution, including two militia commanders and six people involved in trafficking. Attempts to list abusive warlords and officials have failed because powerful backers within the Security Council have blocked such designations. The UN Human Rights Council shut down its Commission of Inquiry on Libya in  2012 leaving inadequate public reporting on crimes committed by all sides in Libya.

Nor has Libya seen justice for crimes committed under Gaddafi’s rule. Although media reports that a Tripoli criminal court is investigating the June 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre in which 1,200 prisoners were killed, no one has yet been held responsible. Many who opposed Gaddafi remain missing, including prominent opposition members Jaballa Hamed Matar and Izzat al-Megaryef, who were arrested by Egyptian security forces in Cairo in 1990 and sent to Abu Salim. Lebanese Shia cleric Imam Musa al-Sadr disappeared in Libya in 1978; his fate remains unknown. 

It will take strong political will to expose those behind the most serious violations and bring justice. The narrative that peace in Libya will come only through political and economic settlements and holding abusive warlords and officials to account is counterproductive, is ill conceived. Real peace depends on first seeing justice done. Libya urgently needs a robust investigative mechanism to establish responsibility for violations and to document and preserve evidence of these crimes – for example, an independent UN International Commission of Inquiry.  

Peace and justice depend on each other. Ali was tired but he wanted me to document every detail that he could remember of his ordeal, and to see every scar. It mattered a lot that he could tell his story and know that someone would preserve it. Then maybe one day, those who tormented him would be arrested and sent to jail. 

[1] HRW interview with Ali (name changed), October 2017, Tripoli, Libya.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An Equatorial Guinea court’s conviction of 112 defendants on May 31, 2019, in a trial rife with due process violations, including confessions extracted through torture, represents a gross miscarriage of justice, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a video about the trial.

The American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch Project, sent five monitors to observe the trial. Juan Mendez, the former United Nations special rapporteur on torture and member of the TrialWatch Advisory Board, prepared a public preliminary report based on their notes, which describes a litany of abuse including coerced confessions and due process violations before and during the trial. The video includes interviews with Mendez and two lawyers who observed parts of the trial.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, at the United Nations headquarters. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
(Geneva) – Bangladesh should implement the recommendations made by the United Nations Committee against Torture to end the widespread practice of torture in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The committee’s first review of Bangladesh under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment will be from July 29 to August 8, 2019, in Geneva.

Bangladeshi security forces are seldom held accountable for serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of people in custody. Instead, authorities have cracked down on rights groups, activists, and journalists for exposing these violations. Bangladesh, for the first time, agreed to come under review by the committee since ratifying the Convention against Torture over 20 years ago, by submitting its long-overdue state report on measures it has taken to uphold its commitments under the treaty. The government claimed that it “has already undertaken several measures to improve the responses from the authorities and bodies responsible for promotion and protection of human rights and also the quality of access to justice for the victims of torture.”

“Bangladesh’s appearance before the UN Committee Against Torture is an important opportunity to acknowledge the endemic use of torture by the country’s security forces,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should adopt the committee’s recommendations, enforce existing laws against torture, and send a clear message to security forces that it’s serious about eradicating torture.”

Human Rights Watch has documented widespread torture by Bangladesh security forces including beating detainees with iron rods, belts, and sticks; subjecting detainees to electric shocks, waterboarding, hanging detainees from ceilings and beating them; and deliberately shooting detainees, typically in the lower leg, described as “kneecapping.” Authorities routinely claim that these victims were shot in self-defense, in “crossfire,” or during violent protests.

In 2013, the government passed the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, signaling a commitment to eliminating torture. However, there have been very few cases filed under the Torture Act and not a single case has been completed. Meanwhile, investigations by human rights organizations suggest that authorities still routinely torture people in custody. Since the passage of the law, there have been 160 documented cases of torture. The actual number is likely much higher.

Instead of enforcing the law, Bangladeshi police have repeatedly called for the government to amend it to be less prohibitive, calling into question whether Bangladesh’s security forces are serious about ending their torture practices. In 2015, the police submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Home Affairs to repeal section 12 of the Torture Act, which states that circumstances such as war, political instability, or emergency are not considered an acceptable excuse for the commission of torture. They also proposed that certain law enforcement units – including those with the most notorious reputations for committing torture, such as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the Criminal Investigations Department, the Special Branch, and the Detective Branch – be excluded from prosecution under the act.

Last year, during Bangladesh Police Week 2018, the police again implored Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to amend the act, and Hasina said she would consider it, according to the Dhaka Tribune. Instead of succumbing to police pressure, the government should stand firm behind its international commitments to eradicate torture, Human Rights Watch said.

In its report submitted to the Committee against Torture, Bangladesh outlined its commitments under domestic and international law to protect against forced confessions, including that a magistrate must explain to the accused that they are “not bound to make a confession, and that if he does so it may be used as evidence against him. Moreover, a Magistrate should not record any such confession unless he has reason to believe that it is being made voluntarily.” However, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous reports of RAB, the Director General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), and the police using torture to extract confessions, often making suspects sign blank sheets of paper.

Sections 54 and 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code empower the police to detain people for 15 days without a lawyer, known as remand, which has long been criticized as a loophole for torture. Human rights organizations have repeatedly documented that instances of torture most frequently occur during remand.

In 2003, the High Court Division of Bangladesh concluded that, deployed broadly, sections 54 and 167 were inconsistent with rights guaranteed in the constitution. The Supreme Court issued 15 directives to safeguard against abuse of the powers of arrest and interrogation in custodial detention, including that authorities must take permission from a magistrate to conduct interrogation in remand and that it must take place in a room with glass walls inside the prison, with lawyers and relatives allowed to monitor nearby. Moreover, authorities must inform the person of the reason for arrest within three hours and ensure that a relative or friend of the detained person is informed within 12 hours of the arrest about the time, place of arrest, and place of detention.

But these directives are inconsistently followed, if at all, Human Rights Watch said. Since 2013 – the same year the Torture Act passed – arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances by law enforcement authorities have increased. In most cases, those arrested remain in custody for weeks or months before being formally charged or released. Others are killed in so-called armed exchanges, and many remain disappeared. There were 90 reported cases of disappearances in 2018 alone. While many of those disappeared are never located or released, those who are, often are afraid to speak out. However, those who do describe their experiences consistently allege severe torture.

For example, Idris Ali, 56, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, was on his motorbike returning to his house from the market on August 4, 2016, when, according to witnesses, plainclothes people from a police post stopped him and forcibly dragged him away. Family members went to their local police station but the officer-in-charge told them that the location where Ali was allegedly taken was not within the station’s jurisdiction, and that they should go to the Shailkupa police station to file a report. Officers there, however, declined to allow them to do so. On the morning of August 12, police informed the family that the body of a missing madrasa teacher was found on the Harinakundu-Jhenaidah road. A family member said they went to the morgue:

We went there and found his mutilated body. After conducting autopsy and postmortem examinations, police claimed that it was a case of a road mishap, and Idris’s motorcycle was found at the roadside. We, however, identified marks of severe torture on different parts of the body. There were marks of hammering behind the head. Tendons were slashed. All the parts of the body bore torture marks.

In other cases, families still wait for answers with authorities denying the arrests, although in several cases, there are credible witnesses that say that their relatives were taken into custody by security forces.

“Bangladesh should be commended for committing to work with the UN to fulfill its mandate to prevent torture,” Adams said. “But the government needs to recognize and take responsibility for the torture committed by its security forces today.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Photos of Ali al-Arab and Ahmad al-Malali, whose death sentences were upheld by Bahrain’s Court of Cassation on May 6, 2019. 

 
© Private

(Beirut) – Bahraini authorities appear ready to carry out death sentences against Ali al-Arab, 25, and Ahmad al-Malali, 24, both Bahraini citizens, Human Rights Watch said today. Security forces arrested them separately on February 9, 2017. A court convicted them of terrorism offenses and sentenced them to death on January 31, 2018 in a mass trial marred by allegations of torture and serious due process violations.

Sources said there is an increased security presence around the prison. In addition, a member of al-Arab’s family told the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy that he received a phone call from the Jaw prison, where al-Arab is being detained, asking the family to come for a “special visit” with al-Arab this afternoon. He said that al-Malali’s family received a similar phone call.

“If the executions are indeed imminent, then the king has committed a grave injustice by ratifying the death sentences of the two men despite the allegations of torture and other serious due process concerns,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “He should right the wrong by immediately revoking the death sentences.”

The Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence against the two men on May 6, 2019. Under Bahraini law, after the Court of Cassation confirms a death sentence, the decision is sent to the king, who has the power to ratify the sentence, commute it, or grant a pardon.

Local groups reported that the last time family members of death-row inmates had similar notifications, the detainees were executed within a few hours. Under article 330 of Bahrain’s Code of Criminal Procedure, family members are permitted a final visit before the execution, on the day it is scheduled.

On May 30, 13 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, wrote a joint letter to King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa about the al-Arab and al-Malali cases. The groups raised their concerns about the men’s death sentences given the allegations that their confessions were obtained under torture and their right to a fair trial was violated. The rights groups urged the king to commute the sentences, as the men had exhausted all legal remedies available to them.

In a letter addressed to the king on December 11, 2018, three UN human rights experts expressed extreme concern about the imposition of the death penalty on several defendants, including al-Arab and al-Malali, amid allegations that their confessions were obtained under torture. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and its special rapporteur on torture had similarly expressed “grave concern” about al-Arab’s allegations of torture in a letter to the king on July 6, 2017.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. Bahrain’s use of the death penalty is contrary to international human rights law, statements of UN human rights experts, and various UN bodies.

The UN General Assembly has repeatedly said that countries should declare a moratorium on the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed – all with the view toward its eventual abolition.

“The king’s indifference to the evidence raised by UN experts and rights groups demonstrates he’s not serious about reform,” Fakih said. “The death penalty is an irreversible punishment that should be abolished immediately, and the two young men should be spared such a cruel death.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Kuwait’s Interior Ministry released a video statement on July 12 alleging the eight Egyptians were sought for criminal offenses in Egypt. Video originally published on Kuwait’s Interior Ministry YouTube Page.

(Beirut) – Kuwaiti authorities on July 15, 2019 unlawfully returned eight Egyptian dissidents despite the serious risk of torture and persecution they face in Egypt, Human Rights Watch said today. The deportation of the men appears to violate Kuwait’s obligations under international law.

On July 12, the Kuwaiti government announced that it had separately arrested the eight dissidents, claiming that the Egyptian authorities sought them for crimes they allegedly committed in Egypt as members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Kuwaiti authorities should end further deportations to Egypt of anyone facing mistreatment and hold accountable those responsible for the recent deportations.

“Kuwaiti authorities have put at grave risk eight men who fled mass oppression in Egypt and thought they had found refuge in Kuwait,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s horrendous that Kuwait is acting at the behest of abusive Egyptian security agencies and returning dissidents to face torture and persecution.”

KUNA, Kuwait’s official news agency, said on July 15 that the government deported “wanted” Egyptians, identifying them as Hossam Ibrahim al-Adl, Abdel Rahman Mohamed Ahmed, Abu-Bakr Atef al-Fayiomi, Abdel Rahman Ibrahim Abdel Moniem, Walid Suleiman, Najeh Awad, Faleh Hassan, and Mo’men Abu Al-Wafa. All had lived in Kuwait for several years. There is no record of any judicial review of the deportation orders or of the risks faced by these men on return to Egypt.

Kuwait’s Interior Ministry issued a statement claiming that the eight men were members of a “terrorist cell” that was part of the Muslim Brotherhood and that they had been convicted by Egyptian courts. The ministry said that it had the deportees under surveillance before their arrest. It published a video showing their names with blurred faces and claimed that they “confessed to carrying out terrorist activities … in different parts in Egypt.”

The deputy foreign minister, Khaled Al-Jarallah, said that the deportations followed “cooperation” with the Egyptian authorities and that “this cooperation will continue.” He said that “the Kuwaiti-Egyptian security coordination is very strong and makes us feel assured.”

Hossam Ibrahim al-Adl’s daughter, Menna al-Adl, told Human Rights Watch that men in civilian clothes arrested her father on July 10 at the pharmacy where he worked. Al-Adl, 57, had been living legally in Kuwait since October 2013, his daughter said. Her family provided two videos from the pharmacy’s security cameras that show the moment al-Adl was arrested.

Menna al-Adl said her father had never been arrested before, in Egypt or Kuwait. Human Rights Watch reviewed court documents that show Egyptian courts had acquitted al-Adl in three cases of alleged protests and political violence between 2014 and 2016.  She said an Egyptian court sentenced him to five years in prison in 2016 for allegedly participating in a 2016 protest even though he had not been back to Egypt since he left, in October 2013.

She also said that Kuwaiti State Security officials confirmed they had detained al-Adl but refused to allow the family to visit him. “Every lawyer we approached said he couldn’t do anything,” she said. “They said because it’s a State Security case, they can’t intervene.” Al-Adl’s family said they do not know any of the other men deported.

As a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Kuwait has a treaty obligation not to return anyone to a territory where they face a real risk of torture or ill-treatment. Under customary international law, Kuwait is also obligated to ensure that no one is forcibly sent to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution. In addition, Kuwait violated due process rights by denying the men an opportunity to fairly contest their arrests and deportation, and by denying them access to lawyers and family members.

Egyptian authorities have not officially commented about the returned dissidents. In January and March, one Egyptian deported from Turkey and five deported from Malaysia were reported missing upon their forcible return to Egypt. The man deported from Turkey appeared weeks later in a court hearing with signs that he had been “badly tortured,” lawyers said.

Since July 2013, the Egyptian government has arbitrarily detained or prosecuted tens of thousands of dissidents on political grounds. Prosecutors have placed thousands in lengthy pretrial detention without a legal basis. Judges have also unlawfully held hundreds of detainees in pretrial detention beyond the two-year limit under Egyptian law. Many of those detained were rounded up solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and free expression, including membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government banned in 2013.

Egypt’s prisons are notorious for unlawful detention conditions including overcrowding and insufficient access to medical care. Torture in unofficial detention sites is rampant and unpunished. Security forces torture detainees during lengthy periods of forced disappearance to extract confessions.

“Torture in Egypt, because of its systematic, widespread nature and indications that it is state policy, may be crimes against humanity,” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am