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Saudi restrictions on access to the country, coupled with the lack of freedom of association and expression, made it extremely difficult to obtain detailed information about human rights conditions, and there were no independent human rights organizations operating from inside the country either overtly or clandestinely. Surveillance of telephone, the Internet, and postal communications made it risky for persons inside the kingdom to provide information. Saudis abroad were reluctant to speak of sensitive matters for fear of repercussion on family members or future employment prospects. As of October 2000, there were no indications that the new rights bodies announced by the government in April had been set up or begun operation. It was also unclear if the cabinet's August decision to ratify CEDAW, albeit with reservations, would enable independent women's rights groups to organize and function freely inside the kingdom.

Amnesty International launched a worldwide campaign focused on Saudi Arabia-"End Secrecy, End Suffering"-and published reports about the kingdom in March, May, and October. The campaign provoked repeated public responses from Saudi government officials that ranged from welcoming invitations to intense criticism. On March 27, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a detailed statement saying that the kingdom had a "keen interest and commitment to the cause of human rights," there were no political prisoners, and the criminal justice system was "properly administered." Harsh words followed from senior Saudi officials. For example, Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz charged on April 11 at a joint press conference with British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon that "all that has been said against Saudi Arabia is motivated by hate." He added: "Those who have the slightest doubt over human rights in Saudi Arabia should come to the kingdom to see for themselves. We have six million non-Saudis who work in all fields and enjoy their rights." Saudi newspapers on April 15 quoted Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who dismissed as "merely nonsense" the allegations of human rights abuses in the kingdom. The interior minister was also quoted the same day as saying: "We welcome anyone to see for himself the facts in the kingdom as it has nothing to conceal."

But Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal appeared to exclude Amnesty International from the interior minister's invitation to visit the kingdom. In an interview with the Spanish daily El Pais, reported by Agence France-Presse on April 16, he said: "If Amnesty International was seeking the truth and if it informed itself honesty of the truth, we would consider a visit." He continued: "But so long as it continues to use erroneous information as its basis without taking into account our responses," the visit would have "no sense." As of this writing, neither AmnestyInternational nor Human Rights Watch have received positive responses to requests for access to the kingdom.

After the release of Amnesty International's second report, which concerned the justice system, the criticism continued. For example, Minister Abdullah al-Sheik said on May 9 that critics of the kingdom's rights record "have misled many people with lies and fallacies which they spread through the media." And on May 20 the daily al-Riyadh quoted Prince Turki bin Muhamed, deputy foreign minister for political affairs, charging: "The target of Amnesty's campaign against Saudi Arabia is Islam."

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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