Human rights violations are pervasive in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy. Despite international and domestic pressure to implement reforms, improvements have been halting and inadequate. King Abdullah’s succession to the throne after King Fahd’s death in August inspired some hope among Saudi citizens for future reform. King Abdullah quickly pardoned three prominent reformers who had earlier been sentenced to long prison terms for voicing criticism of the government, and announced a new labor law promising increased rights for women and migrant workers, but overall human rights conditions in the kingdom remain poor.
Saudi law does not protect many basic rights. The government does not allow political parties, and places strict limits on freedom of expression. Arbitrary detention, mistreatment and torture of detainees, restrictions on freedom of movement, and lack of official accountability remain serious concerns. The kingdom carried out some seventy-three executions as of late September 2005, more than double the thirty-two executions in the whole of 2004. Saudi women continue to face serious obstacles to their participation in the economy, politics, media, and society. Many foreign workers face exploitative working conditions; migrant women working as domestics often are subjected to round-the-clock confinement by their employers, making them vulnerable to sexual abuse and other mistreatment. The government continued to harass independent Saudi Arabian human rights defenders and stifle their efforts to establish independent rights monitoring groups.