February 5, 2002
Blanket denials of torture from senior Saudi officials only compound the problem and perpetuate a culture of impunity among security forces. The practice of torture in Saudi Arabia is well-documented, and the government is legally obligated to investigate these recent allegations.
Hanny Megally Executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch

The government of Saudi Arabia should take immediate steps to investigate and prosecute members of the internal security forces responsible for torturing detainees and prisoners, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said any Saudi investigation should include the perpetrators of torture as well as public officials who instigated, consented, or acquiesced to the acts.

The most recent allegations of torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment in Saudi Arabia came from three British citizens who were released in December 2001, after being held for over twelve months. Two described torture under interrogation at an interior ministry facility in an article published in The Guardian (London) on January 30.

Saudi interior minister Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz responded by claiming that there was “no truth” to the allegations, which he said were “part of the media campaign against the kingdom.”

“Blanket denials of torture from senior Saudi officials only compound the problem and perpetuate a culture of impunity among security forces,” said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “The practice of torture in Saudi Arabia is well-documented, and the government is legally obligated to investigate these recent allegations.”

Torture is prohibited under Saudi law and international human rights law. In October 1997, Saudi Arabia became a state party to the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the convention’s provisions became part of Saudi domestic legislation.

Background

The three Britons, Paul Moss, David Mornin, and Kelvin Hawkins, were arrested in the wake of a series of bombings in Riyadh and Khobar. The bombings, which began in November 2000, killed one British citizen and injured others. Saudi authorities maintained that the violence was a consequence of turf wars among expatriates involved in the illegal but highly lucrative alcohol trade in the kingdom. Six other foreigners, one Canadian, one Belgian, and four Britons, continue to be held on suspicion of involvement in these incidents, but have not yet been charged or tried. Three of them were shown on Saudi state television on February 4, 2001, “confessing” to the bombings; the remaining three made similar “confessions” that were aired on August 13, 2001.

Moss and Mornin told the Guardian of severe physical abuse, and all three men said that they had been subjected to sleep deprivation while under interrogation:

Paul Moss, who was arrested in December 2000, described how he was treated while in the custody of the interior ministry at a facility in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where he said he was held in solitary confinement for seven weeks. “I did not have a name: I was just addressed as a number throughout by an interrogator who was obviously well-educated. Every time I was taken from the windowless cell two floors up for interrogation I was blindfolded and shackled.” He told the Guardian that he was deprived of sleep, and beaten on four separate occasions: “They hit me in the testicles with a stick. Then they hit me on the chin each time as I went down.” Moss also alleged that he was intimidated and threatened: “They took me on the roof and said they would throw me off and say I'd been trying to escape. They said they'd done that before. They threatened to plant drugs in my house to get my wife and child beheaded.”

David Mornin, who was arrested in November 2000, said that he was held in solitary confinement in a punishment cell for eight weeks “with the light burning all the time.” He told the Guardian that he too was subjected to physical abuse and threats while in interior ministry custody, in attempts to elicit a confession: “They flung me off the walls, punched me in the gut, kicked me in the ribcage... they hammered me. They threatened to gang rape my wife, to plant drugs on her, they said they would take me to the desert and cut my throat and leave me there.” He continued: “They kick you awake, make you sit down, then stand up about every 15 minutes.” Mornin also described how he was suspended: “They hung me from bars above the door by my handcuffs so I was just on the balls of my feet for 24 hours at a time. They did that on four occasions.” He said that when he was released he “had to write a thank you note to the king, and sign to say I had not been mistreated.”

Kelvin Hawkins, arrested in November 2000, told the Guardian he was not physically abused, possibly because his wife told Saudi authorities he had undergone a quadruple bypass. “What happened to me was sleep deprivation, I was hand cuffed, shackled and blindfolded and held in solitary confinement for three months,” he said. “Initially they tried to get me to confess to the bombings. After I confessed to running [an illegal] bar they stopped asking about the bombings,” he said.

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Saudi Arabia reported to the U.N. Committee against Torture in February 2001 that the regulations in the kingdom “prohibit all forms of torture.” The government cited article 28 of the Prison and Detention Regulations, which states: “All forms of aggression against prisoners or detainees are prohibited and disciplinary measures shall be taken against civilian or military officials who commit any act of aggression against prisoners or detainees, without prejudice to any criminal penalties to which they might be liable in cases in which such aggression constitutes a criminal offense.” The government also noted that article 100 of the Statutes of the Directorate of Public Security stipulates the following: “The investigating officer shall be vigilant and shall endeavor, by various judicious means, to ascertain the underlying reason for the suspect’s persistence or silence without resorting to coercion or torture.” In addition, the government cited article 231 of the Statutes: “Anyone who is found to be responsible for the unjustified detention of, or infliction of harm on, any person shall be punished by a term of detention equivalent to that for which he was responsible and shall also be liable for any harm that he inflicted.”

The Saudi government also informed the U.N. Committee against Torture in February 2001 that the Convention against Torture, “having been ratified by Royal Decree, forms part of the domestic legislation, as a result of which its provisions can be invoked before the courts and the other judicial and administrative authorities of the Kingdom.” Article 12 of the convention requires Saudi Arabia to “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.” Article 4 of the convention stipulates that complicity, as well as participation, in torture must be considered offenses under criminal law, and that each state party “shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.”