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[ annual report 1999 ]

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Scores of people were arrested as suspected political or religious opponents of the government, including possible prisoners of conscience. Many were held in secret detention. Political prisoners, believed to number in the hundreds, including possible prisoners of conscience, arrested in previous years remained held without trial and possibly without charge. At least one possible prisoner of conscience continued to serve a prison sentence imposed after a grossly unfair trial. There were continued allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Two people were reported to have died in custody in circumstances which suggested that torture was a contributory factor. The cruel judicial punishments of amputation and flogging continued to be imposed. An unknown number of people were sentenced to death and at least 29 people were executed after trials which fell far short of international standards. At least 37 foreign nationals were forcibly returned to their country where they were at risk of serious human rights violations.

    The government of King Fahd bin 'Abdul-'Aziz continued to enforce a ban on political parties and trade unions. Press censorship also continued to be strictly enforced. Information on human rights violations remained severely limited. The government continued to impose restrictions on access to the country by international human rights organizations.

    Scores of people were arrested as suspected political or religious opponents of the government or on political or religious grounds, including possible prisoners of conscience. They included tens of Christians who were apparently detained solely for their religious beliefs. They also reportedly included scores of so-called Arab Afghan veterans _ people who had taken part in armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Bosnia _ who were arrested in the first few months of the year. Some of those arrested were understood to have been subsequently released.

    Suha al-Mas'ari was arrested in Jeddah in November, upon arrival from the United Kingdom (uk). She was reportedly taken to al-Ha'ir prison in Riyadh. The reasons for her arrest were not clear, but were reportedly connected to her kinship to the exiled Muhammad al-Mas'ari, in which case she would have been a prisoner of conscience. She was released without charge in December.

    Up to 30 Christian migrant workers were arrested in Riyadh in June, reportedly after a copy of the Bible was found outside a house. They were arrested purely for their religious beliefs and were prisoners of conscience. Among those arrested were Ariel Ordona, Angelito Sison, Juanito Manalili and Ruban Aguire, all Philippine nationals, and Wim Den Hartog, a Dutch national. They were reportedly held in incommunicado detention. Yolanda Aguilar, a Philippine national, who was heavily pregnant at the time of the June arrests, was interrogated in hospital shortly after giving birth. She was ordered to remain under house arrest until her husband returned from the Philippines to be questioned about his religious activities. All of those arrested were reported to have been released without charge in July and deported.

    Political prisoners believed to number hundreds, including possible prisoners of conscience, arrested in previous years continued to be held without trial. At least several others arrested with them were released during the year. Those still held included so-called Arab Afghan veterans as well as Shi'a and Sunni Muslim critics or opponents of the government. Among the latter were Sheikh Salman bin Fahd al-'Awda and Sheikh Safr 'Abd al-Rahman al-Hawali, both arrested in 1994, and Dr Nasser al-'Umr, arrested in 1995. All three remained held in al-Ha'ir Prison throughout 1998 (see Amnesty International Report 1997). Bander Fahd al-Shihri, who was arrested on political grounds in 1997 after he was forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia from Canada, also remained detained without trial (see Amnesty International Report 1998). Scores of prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, detained in the wake of the 1996 bombing of the us military complex of al-Khobar, remained held without trial and possibly without charge.

    Also held without charge or trial were Farzana Kauzar, a Pakistan national, and her three children _ Muhammad Assad Ijaz, aged three, Fakeyha Ijaz, aged six, and Muhammad Sa'ad, aged nine. Arrested in October 1997, they were held under house arrest until their release in July. At times they were also held in secret detention and the children were separated from their mother and from each other during interrogation. The family was believed to have been held in order to force the children's father, Ahmed Muhammad Ijaz, to return to Saudi Arabia. He was apparently sought by the authorities as a possible witness to a business dispute. Farzana Kauzar and her three children were prisoners of conscience held solely because of their relationship to Ahmed Muhammad Ijaz.

    At least one possible prisoner of conscience continued to serve a prison sentence imposed after a grossly unfair trial. 'Ali al-'Utaybi was sentenced in 1996 to three years in prison on charges reportedly including having contact with the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights (cdlr), an illegal organization based abroad.

    Among the political prisoners released during the year were Muhsen Hussain al-'Awaji, Ibrahim 'Abd al-Rahman al-Hudayf, Muhammad 'Abd al-Rahman al-Hudayf, Naser Ibrahim al-Barak, Salih Mansur al-Barak, Khalid 'Abdallah Salih al-Yahya, Sultan 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Suwaylem and Sultan 'Abd al-Muhsen al-Khamis. All eight were arrested in 1994 on charges relating to an alleged attack against a security officer and for having links with the cdlr (see Amnesty International Report 1996). They were sentenced in 1995 to prison terms ranging from three to 18 years after trials which fell far short of international standards for fair trial. Ibrahim 'Abd al-Rahman al-Hudayf was sentenced to 300 lashes in addition to 18 years' imprisonment. A number of leading Shi'a clerics, arrested in 1996 in the wake of the al-Khobar bombing, were also released. They included Sheikh Ja'far 'Ali al-Mubarak, Sheikh 'Abd al-Karim al-Hobail, Sayyed Hashim al-Shekuss and Sheikh Hussain al-'Abbas (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

    There were allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Dr Omran Muhammad, a Kuwaiti national visiting Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage, was reportedly detained in April, apparently in connection with his political views, and held in the al-Mabahith al-'Amma (General Intelligence) headquarters in the city of al-Madina and then in deportation prisons in al-Madina and Jeddah. During his detention he was allegedly beaten, kicked and suspended upside down with chains for periods of several hours. He was allegedly denied contact with the Kuwaiti embassy and his family. He was released without charge and deported to Kuwait at the end of April.

    There were reports that two prisoners died in custody in circumstances which suggested that torture may have been a contributory factor. Muhammad al-Hayek was reported to have died in June in the al-Mabahith al-'Amma headquarters in al-Dammam. He had been detained for more than two years without charge or trial. He was reportedly held incommunicado and there was no known official investigation into the cause of death.

    Ahmad bin Ahmad al-Mubalbil, a prayer leader from al-Jufer village in al-Ihsa, died reportedly in November while in the custody of members of the Hay'at al-Amr bil Ma'ruf Wan-Nahi 'an al-Munkar, Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. His relatives were said to have refused to collect his body and were reported to have lodged a complaint with the Ministry of the Interior. The exact reasons for the arrest of Ahmad bin Ahmad al-Mubalbil were not known, but they were believed to be connected to his religious practices.

    Cruel judicial punishments continued to be imposed, although information about court cases and the carrying out of such punishments was limited. In October Nasser bin Khamis bin 'Abdullah al-Malluhi, a Saudi Arabian, and Sa'id bin 'Abd Al-Razak Sayyed Madkur, an Egyptian, both reportedly had a hand amputated after being found guilty of theft. The judicial punishment of flogging also continued to be imposed routinely.

    At least 29 people were executed after grossly unfair trials conducted in secret and without legal assistance; all were convicted of murder or rape. Most of those executed were Saudi Arabian; others were migrant workers from Egypt, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Two executions were carried out on the same day in July: one was of Yolando Isanan from the Philippines, who had been found guilty of murdering four people; the other was of Mud'ij bin Musib bin Nasir al-Subay'i, a Saudi Arabian, who had been convicted of murder. No details of court proceedings were made public. In the cases of Yolando Isanan and other foreign nationals executed in Saudi Arabia, neither the families nor the relevant embassies were believed to have been informed of the executions until after they had been carried out.

    The exact number of prisoners who remained under sentence of death at the end of the year was not known as the government continued to keep such information secret. Those arrested in connection with capital offences during 1998 included Eugenio Catapang, Reynaldo Dela Cruz and Taha Pagayocan, all Philippine nationals, who were arrested in February on drug-related charges. Joel Blaza, also from the Philippines, was arrested in April on charges relating to possession of drugs and firearms. Dozens of people arrested on capital offences in previous years remained at risk of execution. They included four Pakistani men, arrested in 1997 in connection with drug trafficking. Ten Pakistani women arrested with them were reportedly released and deported to Pakistan. Sarah Dematera, a Philippine national who was convicted of murdering her employer in 1992, also remained under sentence of death (see Amnesty International Report 1997). However, Deborah Parry, a nurse and uk national, who had reportedly been convicted of murder, was released from prison in May after being pardoned by King Fahd bin 'Abdul-'Aziz. The verdict and sentence were never officially announced. Her colleague, Lucille McLauchlan, also a uk national, was also pardoned and released in May. She had been found guilty of being an accessory to murder and was sentenced to eight years in prison and 500 lashes (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

    At least 35 Libyans, including three children, and two Egyptians were forcibly returned to their countries where they were at risk of torture. Among them were 31 Libyans, including Hamida al-Wa'ir and her son Youssef, aged about 19 months, who were forcibly returned to Libya in April or May (see Libya entry). The Libyans were among scores of foreign and Saudi Arabian nationals arrested in the wake of the November 1995 bombing of the Saudi Arabian National Guard training centre in Riyadh, the capital. They had been held without trial in al-Ruwais prison in Jeddah since their arrest in December 1995. The forcible return coincided with the signing of a security agreement in April by Arab Ministers of the Interior and Justice. Among other things, the agreement encourages extradition of suspected “terrorists”. A family of four Libyans, including Mohammad Shabou, aged five, and Ahmad Shabou, aged four, who were arrested in January, were also forcibly returned to Libya where all four were detained. The family had been granted refugee status in the uk in November 1997. They were arrested in Saudi Arabia, reportedly after overstaying a two-week visa which allowed them to go on pilgrimage to Mecca. Al-Sayyid Mohammad Shabou, the father, remained in custody in Libya at the end of the year where he was believed to be at risk of torture.

    In communications to the Saudi Arabian government Amnesty International requested clarification of the reasons for the arrest and detention of political detainees and called for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience and for fair trials in accordance with international standards for all others held on political grounds. The organization also called for reports of torture to be investigated, for anyone found responsible to be brought to justice, and for the commutation of all sentences of flogging, amputation and death. No response was received from the government.

    In April Amnesty International updated its previous submissions on Saudi Arabia for review by the un Commission on Human Rights under a procedure established by un Economic and Social Council Resolutions 728f/1503, for confidential consideration of communications about human rights violations. Amnesty International deplored the Commission's decision to discontinue its consideration of Saudi Arabia under the 1503 procedure despite the persistent pattern of gross human rights violations in the country.

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