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Saudi Arabia: Torture under king Salman’s watch

لقراءته بالعربية اضغط هنا

Although more than 20 years have passed since Saudi Arabia acceded to the UN Convention against Torture (UN CAT)  in 1997, Saudi Arabia has failed to ensure adequate awareness, implementation and education with regard to its ratification of the torture convention, in accordance with article 10 which states “Each State Party shall ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against torture are fully included in the training of law enforcement personnel, and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment”. This includes the lack of a concrete role of the Saudi government on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26th of each year, which is considered one of the most important annual event against torture in the world.

In stark contrast to the spirit of the convention, Saudi Arabia continues to practice physical and psychological torture widely against detainees, as well as humiliating, degrading and ill-treatment. Disturbingly, these practises even extend to child detainees. The most dangerous and worrying point is that torture in Saudi Arabia is not practiced through random and isolated individual actions, but rather systematically through the presidency of the State security apparatus that was established under royal order on July 20th 2017. Likewise, the royal order stated that the system shall directly refer to the Prime Minister (who is the king according to the basic law of governance) in Saudi Arabia; in other words, king Salman is directly responsible for torture incidents that occur via the Presidency of the state security. As there is no independent judiciary, it’s impossible to remedy the victims of torture when the institution they are complaining against is directly attributable to the king.

Moreover, in many cases, the use of torture has led to death. In March 2018, the detainee Ali Jasim Alnazaa (61 years old) passed away at the detectives’ prison. Sources indicated that his family was prohibited from photographing his body, in an attempt to conceal the effects of torture seen on his body while washing it. Alnazaa was detained on November 6th 2017, according to official information, in connection with the murder of a soldier at Albahari village, as he was nearby in the vicinity  in one of the village streets at the time of the murder. The sources say that Alnazaa (retired), a father of seven, went out of his house to buy food for them from a restaurant, and was detained. Several months later, he was returned to his family as a dead body.

In January 2018, the young Habib Alshwaikhat died after battling cancer and suffering from heart and thyroid gland disorders, which was intensified as a result of the deliberate medical ignorance whilst in detention, which caused him to have a shortness of breath, an inability to walk and difficulty in movement. In response, his father wrote a letter to the Royal Court calling the king to provide urgent treatment for him and explained his critical health situation, yet the father’s call for urgent medical care for his son was ignored and his son subsequently passed away.

In January 2017, youth Mohamad Rida Alhassawi, who was detained at Dammam GDI prison and died two years after into his detention. Whilst the prisons administration didn’t disclose the causes of death, some family sources indicated that the cause was due to torture.  It is not possible in Saudi Arabia for any independent body to conduct  investigations in such cases, amidst the complete and systematic supression of  civil society, especially under the current reign of the current king Salman Bin Al Aziz and his son the Crown Prince.

On March 4th 2016, a Handball young player, Makki Al Orayedh, was killed under torture in Al Awamiyah police station. After being detained at a checkpoint, he emerged two days later from police custody as a dead body. Al Orayedh is known in his community as an athlete and a volunteer worker at Al Salam Sports Club in Al Awamiyah. His family called upon the authorities to return his body, and observed the effects of torture on it, such as beatings, electric shocks, cigarette burns and cutting by sharp instruments.

In addition to death, torture has led in some cases to disabilities and to permanent and temporary injuries. Such is the case of detainee Munir Al Adam,  who has been sentenced to death. Munir  lost hearing completely in one ear and had poor eyesight due to the torture he experienced. Despite the severe torture and beatings that he suffered, the court sentenced him to death and ignored his complaint of torture and coercion.

Moreover, whilst visiting their relatives in prison, various signs of torture, some are physical and others are psychological were observed by family members. For example, the torture that was endured by Youssef Almaslab, who was detained since 2017 in Dammam GDI prison, led to eye redness and difficulty in speaking. He was also left with marks on his hands and nails due to  torture by electric shocks, as well as damage to his front teeth.

The remainder of this report will give an overview of the some of the methods that Saudi  Arabia uses in torturing detainees, according to ESOHR reports which document torture cases as well as oral interviews conducted with individuals who understand reality of torture in the country.


Methods of Torture in Saudi Arabia

ESOHR’s monitoring and documentation asserts that in addition to the reports of other organisations submitted to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs and to the Committee against Torture, the Saudi government uses multiple mechanisms to torture detainees, with the purpose of extracting confessions from them. This report is based on torture that several victims in prisons have been subjected to, including 19 victims: Sheikh Nimr Al Nimr (executed), Mounir Al Adam (sentenced to death), Amjad Almouaibed (executed), Makki Al Orayedh (killed under torture), Dawod Almarhoon (minor, sentenced to death), Ali Al Nimr (minor, sentenced to death), Hussien Abu Al Khair (sentenced to death), Ali Alrebh (executed), Abdulkareem Alhawaj (minor, sentenced to death), Youssef Almushaikhes (executed), Abbas Alhassan (sentenced to death), Issa Alnukhaifi (prisoner sentenced to 6 years), Murtaja Qureiris (detained at age of 13 years old and still, without a trial), Fadel Almanasef (prisoner sentenced to 14 years), Raif Badawi (prisoner sentenced to 10 years), Sulieman Alrashudi (released recently), Fawzan Alharbi (prisoner sentenced to 10 years), Ahmad Al Sayyed and Hussien Al Rabieh (sentenced to death).

Al Falaqah: This is an old method, which is practised by tying and holding the feet with a stick or a wooden board and beating the soles of the feet using a stick, or a bamboo or a metal wire.

Electric Shocks: Administered through shocking the victim’s body with an electric rod, which produces high electric voltage that tasers the body, which sometimes leave signs on the body. Electric shocks are used on various parts of the body, including on the genitals.

Hanging: This method is used to torture in different ways, including hanging from hands or from feet. During hanging, the victim might be beaten or electrocuted in this vulnerable position that result multiple pains. In some cases, hanging causes long-term damage in nerves or tendons.

Cigarette Burning: A burning cigarette is put out on the skin what causes burns, ulcers and scarring.

Kicking, Slapping & Violent Punching: The majority of detainees are subjected to this type of torture, which causes pain and fear. It may also leave a visible effects like bruises and fractures as well as causing internal damage such as internal bleeding. In most of the cases it happens by placing the victim to a separate room followed by the entrance of a number of “masked” detectives whose mission is to beat the victim severely. Commonly, the prison will insists delaying any family prison visit until the victim’s body is recovered from bruises and beatings.

Beating using Different Tools: Different instruments are used to inflict severe pain. The tool might be sharp, or might be a tool made of materials like wood or metal.

Tying up detainees: This method may be used for hours or days and leads to difficulty in the victim’s functioning to meet his basic needs like eating, bathing, or praying. It results in pain in the limbs and sometimes leads to intense pressure on the wrist or leg of the victim, which cause severe cause pain and blood flow restriction.

Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment In addition to physical torture, Saudi Arabia practices various types of degrading or ill-treatment, which the organisation has documented in several cases:

Solitary Confinement: This method involves placing the detainee in isolation and creates long lasting psychological torment. It is even used on children for long periods of time, in which the detainees are often held at the beginning of their detention in GDI prisons and prevented from communication. It can also be used at any time during detention, such as during reinvestigations or sanctions. One of the new forms of practicing solitary confinement is the allocation of two cells for the detainee, one for sleeping and the other one is for standing or other stressful and painful situations.

Incommunicado detention: The detainee is prevented from communicating with the outside world for varying periods of time. Furthermore, their families are not given the opportunity to call or visit them, and detainees are not allowed to communicate with a lawyer.

Deprivation of food and water: It is used to put pressure on the victims,  punish them.

Deprivation of using the bathroom: In addition to the physical torment, the victim remains in bad psychological state, which lead him to fulfil the detectives instructions in order to end this deprivation and humiliation.

Deprivation of sleep: This usually occurs for periods of days, during which many ways are used to ensure sleep deprivation such as the use of bright lights, high sounds,  threats, or beatings in the event the detainee fell asleep.

Deprivation of medical care: it is used widely and in varying degrees, sometimes to punish or to extract confessions from the victims. It works by  keeping them in pain and leads to a deterioration of their medical state. Often, medical care is not provided to sick prisoners due to the lack of accessibility, slow services and overall insufficient provision of care.

Psychological intimidation: Psychological intimidation is caused usually through threats directed at the victim, or threats to harm his family members. A number of detainees mentioned in their defense that the interrogators threatened to bring their wives or daughters into detention if they didn’t comply and sign confessions which the interrogators had written themselves.

Insults & disrespect: This is usually done through directing offensive or degrading words at the detainees belief, region or city.


In its reports to the Committee against Torture in 2016, the Saudi government confirmed its commitment to prohibit all forms of torture and to investigate victims complaints of torture, as well as ensuring that confessions obtained under torture are not used in trials, because the “impious confessions are neither valid nor do they have an effect”. The Saudi government also asserted that it is not permissible to “isolate the accused from his dealer or lawyer”. Furthermore,  Saudi officials repeated their denial of torture in prisons, in statements by the director general of prisons in 2011, and during a speech made by Saudi Arabia at the 31st session of UN human rights council on March 8th 2016, in which it affirmed that the domestic laws and legislations ensure the protection of the detainees from torture and prohibit the adoption of confessions obtained under duress in judgments.

The Saudi government claims that have been made in international forums, contradicts the victims’ complaints of torture, which is practiced widely in detention centers and prisons, especially in GDI prisons. Besides, the government claims contradicts a number of judicial pleas in which lawyers and victims complained about the use  of torture and duress during investigations and being forced and coerced into saying specific things. This issue was also  raised by the letters sent by the Special Rapporteurs to the Saudi government. In addition, the Saudi claims of the non-existence of torture raises questions about the reasons behind the the Saudi authorities continuous ignorance to the visit request by the Special Rapporteur on torture in 2006, knowing that he had recalled it in 2007 and 2010, also the Rapporteur reapplied for a second visit request in January 2017 to visit during 2017, but it didn’t happen. However, the Saudi government organises  selective tours for some media or diplomatic delegations based on a specific program of its own which is limited. This is unlike the visit of the UN Special Rapporteurs, which is supposed to have guarantees and access to all areas, to ensure freedom of movement, the freedom to investigate and the unrestricted access to the prisons. However, such visits are not desired by the Saudi government.

The Committee against Torture has affirmed in its report that Saudi Arabia is a country that practices torture and doesn’t have a clear definition of it in its laws to ensures that it never occurs. This was asserted in a final report (CAT/C/SAU/CO/2) as a part of the second periodic review in June 2016. Moreover, the report indicated that “torture is considered a normal practice in prisons and detention centers of the State party, especially in the branches of the General Investigation Department (GDI) of the Ministry of Interior and in the detention centers of investigation.

Along with the UN reports, the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights’ monitoring and documention of torture practices and other cruel treatment which the detainees experience in Saudi prisons, indicates that practice of torture is a systematic practice used for the purpose of obtaining confessions from the victims or punish them for their activism. In addition to the interrogators who practice torture, the ratifying judges play a key role in obliging and forcing the victim to sign confession statements written by the interrogators, or on detainee statements which have been coerced or changed to condemn him. Interrogators and officers threaten the victim with torture in case he does not sign on statements before the judge. Furthermore, the latter doesn’t give any attention to victims when they complain that  written statements used in court as evidence are the result of torture and coercion, thus the victims are not provided with a legal protection. Likewise, the victims are trapped in between signing  statements which may lead them to eventually be beheaded, or being sent back for a new investigation and more to brutal torture, therefore they chose the salvation of anguish. Thus, the judiciary accepts and deals with these torture based statements as freely given confessions obtained from the victims willingly. Although Saudi Arabia is a member in the Convention against torture, it fails to abide by its obligations related to investigating allegations of torture, as it ignores the victims’ torture complaints during trials.

On the International Day in Supporting of Victims of Torture,  ESOHR affirms the victims’ need for support in Saudi Arabia to ensure that the responsible individuals are punished, and to ensure that they are not tried according to confessions obtained under torture. Furthermore, the organisation confirms the direct responsibility of king Salman for the systematic torture in the country, as he is directly responsible for the State Presidency apparatus that practices torture during the investigation process. Saudi Arabia fails to fulfill its obligations in the Convention against Torture which it voluntarily joined, and practices torture in a systematic way and through a body supervised directly by the king.

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