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Torture: Permissible Crime in Saudi prisons

لقرائته بالعربية اضغط هنا

In conjunction with the annual International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26, ESOHR has concluded, after reviewing 110 cases of arbitrary detention in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that the crime of torture is still systemically carried out in Saudi prisons, not excepting children and women. In this study, ESOHR presents its results and conclusions.


  • Background

Torture is considered among the most egregious violations of human rights, as it represents a blatant attack on the principle of human dignity, which is the basis of freedom and justice and the foundation of human rights principles. On 26 June 1987, the Convention Against Torture entered into force after itwas certified by 20 nations.

In September 1997, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia certified the Convention Against Torture, which requires its members to take measures to prevent torture. Article Two, Paragraph 1 of the Convention states that “[e]ach State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”


– Measures leading to torture

In contrast with the anti-torture measures it is required to take under the Convention Against Torture and its own domestic laws and regulations, Saudi Arabia has adopted post-arrest procedures that help create an environment that facilitates the occurrence of torture and impunity for its perpetrators, rather than taking fundamental measures to prevent this from happening. The study shows that the vast majority of the cases studied involved the following measures:


  1. Solitary confinement

While the legal time limit for solitary confinement and the requirements for its application vary from country to country, this measure is widely and arbitrarily implemented in Saudi prisons, especially in Mabahith prisons. In many cases, solitary confinement is tantamount to torture.

Many of the subjects in the case studies remained in solitary confinement for periods exceeding six months, some of these approaching or exceeding a year. This is a clear violation of Article 119 of the Saudi Law of Criminal Procedure: “In all cases, the Investigator shall order that the accused may not communicate with any other prisoner or detainee, and that he not be visited by anyone for a period not exceeding sixty days if the interest of the investigation so requires, without prejudice to the right of the accused to communicate with his representative or attorney.”

The study finds that investigators use solitary confinement to force the victim to sign statements written by the investigators themselves, by subjecting him to multiple categoriesof physical and psychological torture. According to official documents, Ahmed al-Nasir, who was arrested on multiple charges including spying, stated before the court that the investigator told him that he would stay in solitary confinement until he died if he did not sign the statements written by the investigator’s own hand.

In addition,Sheikh Samir al-Hilal and Fadil al-Mughassil have remained in solitary confinement for years, which has caused concern that they have been subjected to torture and ill treatment. ESOHR has previously documented the use of forced disappearance as a prelude to torture, killing, and arbitrary sentences.


  1. Denial of access to an attorney

Enabling the accused to communicate with a lawyer immediately after arrest, and especially during interrogation and investigation sessions, would greatly prevent the possibility of torture. Article 4, Paragraph 1 of the Law of Criminal Procedure in Saudi Arabia states that “[a]ny accused person shall have the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer or a representative to defend him during the investigation and trial stages.” Yet, in complete opposition to this, the relevant security entities (Mabahith) do not allow detainees legal representation at all during the investigation period, only granting them this right either during or after the first trial hearing. This makes subsequent access to a lawyer ineffective or a formality because the victim was forced to certify his statements before his trial even began.


  1. Lack of separation between the detention entity and the investigation entity

Separating the entities responsible for detention and investigation helps reduce the possibility of the occurrence of torture crimes. The opposite occurs if one entity is responsible for both detention and investigation. Article 13 of the Law of Criminal Procedure states that “[t]he Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution shall conduct its investigation and prosecution in accordance with its Law and the implementing regulations thereof.” However, in reality, detainees in political cases are often interrogated in Mabahith prison facilities, suggesting that investigators are from the Mabahith apparatus.

It is clear that holding investigation sessions on Mabahith premises, in violation of domestic laws and regulations, has the goal of creating a suitable atmosphere for them to subject the accused to torture and force them to confess against their wishes. Many victims have said that Mabahith investigation sessions took place for long continuous hours after midnight.


  1. Forcing victims to certify their statements prior to trial

Article 108 of the Code of Shari’a Procedure states that certification must be made before the judge in the course of the prosecution: “The effect of a litigant’s admission, during questioning or without questioning, shall be limited to him. The admission shall be made before the court during consideration of the case relating to the admission.”

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia implements a method designed to compel the detainee to agree with statements forced upon him. Under this method, before the beginning of trial, the detainee is sent before a judge known as the “certifying judge,” whose sole duty is to take the detainee’s certification of his statements and then return him to prison. If the detainee refuses to sign, he is sent back to interrogation, which is de facto torture. In order to escape the horrors of torture he is again facing, the detainee must sign, and he is given no opportunity before the certifying judge to debate, object, or avail himself of a lawyer. At a later date, his trial begins before the main judge in the case who does not allow him to object to his statements on the basis that he had already signed his statements before the certifying judge.

In the majority of cases studied by ESOHR, the subjects were not referred for trial until after they were forced to certify their statements with the certifying judge.

In many cases, the victims said that investigators threatened them with severe torture if they did not certify their statements. Likewise, documents reviewed by ESOHR confirm that many victims stated in court that they refused to certify their statements with the certifying judge, but he took no measure to protect them from torture. “You are given the choice between certification or being returned to the investigator without certification, where they will re-investigate you.” This was what the certifying judge said to Mujtaba al-Sweikat, a minor who was executed in April 2019, after he told the judge that his confessions were false.

Similarly, a detainee, Ali Al Rabi (sentenced to death) refused to certify his statements with the certifying judge because the investigator was the one who wrote them. Nevertheless, Al Rabi was returned to his torturers, who tortured him again and forced him to revisit those statements.


  • Categories of torture in Saudi Arabia

According to ESOHR’s research, the Saudi security apparatus practices several types of torture and other forms of inhuman treatment degrading human dignity, including:

  1. Sleep deprivation for days in a row (those against whom this was used include Mohammed al-Zanadi, Sheikh Badr al-Talib, and Ali Al Rabi).
  2. Severe beating (those against whom this was used include minor Mohammed Essamal-Faraj, Haider Al Laif, Fadilal-Sulaiman, minor Ali Al Nimr, writer Nadir al-Majid, Najial-Saleh, and minor Mujtabaal-Safwani).
  3. Forcing the victim to stand for long hours with raised hands, sometimes while bound (those against whom this was used include Ali Owaisheer, Fadilal-Manasif, Ali al-Debisi, and minor Salman AlQuraish).
  4. Placing the victim in a freezing room without clothing or pouring cold water on him (those against whom this was used include minor Jalal Labad and Mohammed al-Zanadi).
  5. Electric shock (those against whom this was used include FadilMakky al-Manasif, Hussein al-Faraj, Dr.Ali al-Omari, Amjad al-Moaibed, minor Abdulkarim al-Hawaj, and Youssef al-Musallab).
  6. Nail extraction (those against whom this was used include Hussein al-Faraj).
  7. Beating the genitals.
  8. Complete stripping of the victim during investigation (those against whom this was used include Mohammed al-Damin).
  9. Tying the victim to a chair during investigation to further humiliate him (those against whom this was used include Nassima al-Sada).
  10. Shackling the victim’s legs for months (those against whom this was used include social justice advocate Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and Sheikh Salman al-Ouda).
  11. Blindfolding during questioning (those against whom this was used include Sheikh Salman al-Ouda).
  12. Burning the victim with cigarette butts (those against whom this was used include Dr. Ali al-Omari and Salem Abu Abdullah).
  13. Beating the soles of the victim’s feet (those against whom this was used include Youssef al-Mushaikhas).
  14. Beating the victim with bamboo and electrical wires (those against whom this was used include Youssef al-Mushaikhas, minor Abdulkarimal-Hawaj, and Abdullah AlTarif).
  15. Beating until unconscious.
  16. Threat of death (those against whom this was used include Ali Owaisheer).
  17. Beating on the back with rifle butts (those against whom this was used include ZuhairKutbi).
  18. Threatening the victim with sending his wife or family members to prison (those against whom this was used include Haider Al Laif and Abbas al-Hassan).
  19. Making insults or ethnic slurs (those against whom this was used include Ali al-Attal).
  20. Hanging the victim by his feet with his head upside down (those against whom this was used include Hussein Abu al-Khair).
  21. Medical negligence with intent to harm the victim (those against whom this was used include Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr).


Saudi courts ignore allegations of torture

ESOHR’s review of 110 cases of torture victims in Saudi Arabia finds that at least 41 people have submitted complaints in court related to their subjection to torture and other degrading treatment. Likewise, several of them have said that investigators threatened them with sending their relatives (wife, son, mother) to prison if they refused to sign statements written in advance by the investigators.

Indeed, documents reviewed by ESOHR establish that Specialized Criminal Court judges do not give attention or seriousness to blatant violations of Article 12 of the Convention Against Torture: “Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

Moreover, the documents indicate that judgesdid not heed victims’ claims and requests for videos of the investigation sessions in which the confessions were extracted, since cameras are available in some of the interrogation rooms. Nor did the judges consider victims’ requests to bring the investigators in for questioning regarding the method of extracting confessions.

Taha al-Hajji, an attorney who represented several victims, noted that judges merely repeated the Public Prosecutor’s denial as evidence that torture did not occur against the victims and found no signs that the Public Prosecutor’s Office conducted the investigation that took place on Mabahith premises. This indicates the judiciary’s collusion with the prosecution in shielding security apparatus torturers from accountability.


  • Case study statistics

Thirty cases (from an original total of 110) were executed based on statements extracted under torture, seven of whom were minors. Furthermore, 15 remain at risk of execution and are at various stages of prosecution, six of whom are minors. Seventeen of the cases were released, while 54 remain in detention. Of the total cases, three were women.


  • Conclusion

Based on its study of these 110 cases and its analysis of dozens of official documents that show the judiciary’s disregard for victims’ allegations, ESOHR believes that torture is not only a permitted practice in Saudi prisons, but is in effect an official practice. Likewise, perpetrators of torture—headed by the Presidency of State Security, a dangerous security apparatus established by royal decree on 20 July 2017—are directly protected by King Salman and his son, the Crown Prince

Furthermore, ESOHR believes that the judiciary’s disregard for allegations of torture, the irregular procedures used with the victims, and its failure to take any fair and transparent steps to redress these issues, are evidence of the judiciary’s collusion with the perpetrators of the crimes of torture within the ranks of the security apparatus.


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