Saudi Arabia Bridles as Rights Group Charges Widespread Abuses

March 28, 2000

By Susan Sachs
CAIRO, March 26 -- In a sharply worded report, Amnesty International
today accused the government of Saudi Arabia of widespread human rights
abuses, including arbitrary arrests, the torture of detainees and the
barring of prisoner access to family members or lawyers.

The group said it has received and published graphic accounts of
mistreatment, discrimination against religious minorities, and
suppression of political dissent in the Persian Gulf kingdom for years.
But Saudi Arabia has escaped international condemnation for its record,
Amnesty officials added, because oil-dependent nations like the United
States have not wanted to offend the kingdom's rulers.

Saudi officials, who rarely respond to outside critics, this time
reacted swiftly, emphatically rejecting Amnesty's findings as biased and
inaccurate.

"We have nothing to hide in human rights," said Prince Turki bin
Mohammedi, the deputy foreign minister responsible for international
organizations, in a telephone interview from the Saudi capital Riyadh.
"There is no harm in having their point of view, but they have to be
more accurate in their information."

The executive director of Amnesty's United States affiliate, William F.
Schulz, said the human rights organization would try to spotlight the
Saudi record through a worldwide publicity campaign this year.

"Amnesty International does launch one or two major campaigns a year
aimed at countries with particularly serious human rights violations,"
said Mr. Schulz. "In the case of Saudi Arabia, the country has gotten
away with arbitrary detention and torture for years, while escaping
international scrutiny."

The campaign will begin on Tuesday with a truck-mounted billboard-the
most aggressive tactic ever used by Amnesty's American office-that will
be driven around Washington. The billboard will feature an amputated
hand over the slogan: "This suffering is the secret of Saudi justice."

"What this research clearly reveals is that people who are arrested in
Saudi Arabia for whatever reason find themselves trapped in a criminal
justice system that provides them with no information about their fate,
allows them no prompt contact with their families or a doctor, and
offers them no hope of contacting a lawyer," the report said.

In response to a request for comment on the Amnesty report, the Saudi
Foreign Ministry said the country's laws already provide stringent
guidelines for how the police and security officials should deal with
prisoners and people they arrest. It also said that, contrary to the
human rights group's report, most trials are open to the public,
conducted according to Saudi law, and that prison conditions are fair.
The State Department, in its annual report on human rights practices in
various countries around the world, has carefully raised criticisms of
life in Saudi Arabia similar to those cited in the Amnesty report.

Saudi Arabia 'buys silence' on abuse
Amnesty: Saudis suffer under "secret justice system" Saudi Arabia is
guilty of widespread human rights abuses and spends a fortune on US
public relations firms to cover up violations, the UK-based human rights
group Amnesty International (AI) says.
The group is launching a six month worldwide campaign against "arbitrary
arrest, torture and executions" in the kingdom coinciding with a report
published on Tuesday entitled Saudi Arabia: A Secret State of Suffering.

The suffering, according to AI, stems primarily from the secrecy that
shrouds the Saudi criminal justice system, while an oil-dependant
international community sits back in silence.

The kingdom - which is the world's biggest oil producer - spent more
than $1m in 1999 on public relations firms to ensure secrecy about
abuses of human rights.

AI says the state structure in Saudi Arabia is permeated by secrecy and
fear. Victims and witnesses are too scared to talk and anyone who dares
voice dissent is harshly punished.

"Anyone not in a position of power or influence caught in the web of the
criminal justice system is at risk of state abuse of power," the group
says. "Once trapped in this web, there is only one guaranteed outcome - their
basic human rights will be violated."

The most common violations occur against migrant workers, religious
minorities and women, the group says.

Saudi Arabia has in the past rejected previous Amnesty reports. There
has been no response to Tuesday's report so far.

Washington march
Amnesty supporters are planning to march between the Saudi Embassy in
Washington, the US State Department and public relations firms employed
by the Saudi Government and the US State Department.

A week ago the group lobbied the United Nations human rights commission
to put aside political and economic considerations and scrutinise the
kingdom's human rights record.

Punishments in Saudi Arabia include death by beheading, amputation and
flogging, and AI says these can be handed down "after trials that make a
mockery of justice".

Saudi Arabia is said to have one of the highest rates of execution in
the world, averaging two a week, but AI says it provides no information
on how victims had been tried.

According to reports the group has compiled over the last two decades,
some defendants were tortured into signing a confession, then beheaded.
"Incommunicado detention, a criminal justice system which from the
outset treats suspects as guilty, and the lack of independent mechanisms
for reporting torture and investigations into allegations, all foster a
climate of impunity," it says.

Abused minorities
AI says Christians, Sikhs and other minorities are subject to
discrimination and are targeted by security forces.

"Political and religious opponents of the government, migrant workers,
women and other powerless individuals emerge as consistent victims of
discrimination," it added.

Amnesty accuses Saudi Arabia of failing to meet international human
rights obligations despite having signed several treaties. 

Political groups and trade unions are banned in the kingdom and the
authorities do not tolerate any form of public dissent.

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