Saudi Arabia accused of rights abuses

Group sees illegal arrests, discrimination, torture

March 28, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CAIRO, Egypt -- In a sharply worded report, Amnesty International accused Saudi Arabia yesterday of widespread human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, the torture of detainees and the barring of prisoners' access to family members or lawyers.

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

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

Much of the organization's report concerned the broader Saudi system, which bans political parties as well as criticism of the royal family and government.

Amnesty contended that torture and extralegal arrests take place, and that even the country's legal forms of punishment violate international norms in their cruelty.

The Saudi legal system is based on its leaders' strict interpretation of Shariah, or Islamic religious law, undiluted by any attempt to reconcile it with modern sensibilities.

Capital crimes range from murder and drug smuggling to apostasy and moral corruption. The punishment for repeated thievery is the amputation of one or more of the convicted person's limbs.

The severity of these penalties, the Amnesty report said, is made worse by a lack of safeguards to guarantee fair trials and appeals.

The 1999 State Department annual report on human rights said Saudi Arabia "commits and tolerates serious human rights abuses." It noted arbitrary detention of citizens and foreigners, and credible reports of torture by security forces, heavy-handed censorship, and violence against religious minorities and women.

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