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January 24, 2007

Your Majesty,

We write to urge you to put an immediate end to Saudi Arabia’s nationwide campaign to round up followers of the Ahmadi faith who have committed no crime. The campaign appears organized and designed to detain and deport all Ahmadis in Saudi Arabia because of their religious belief.

Saudi Arabia has so far arrested 56 non-Saudi followers of the Ahmadi faith, including infants and young children, and deported at least 8 to India and Pakistan. All of those arrested face deportation as soon as a flight becomes available. All but two are legally in the country, mostly long-term residents of Saudi Arabia, and have not been charged with a crime. Many other Ahmadis in Saudi Arabia, a small community of foreign workers in the country primarily from India and Pakistan, are reportedly in hiding or have left the country voluntarily for their own safety.

On Friday, December 29, 2006, more than 50 members of the Saudi religious police together with regular policemen arrested 49 non-Saudi Ahmadis meeting at a privately rented guest house in Jeddah, where they were relaxing after prayers on the Muslim day of rest. On January 5, 6 and 8, 2007, Saudi security forces arrested 5 more foreign Ahmadis in Jeddah and Jubail and attempted to detain the leader of the Saudi Ahmadi chapter in Dammam, but he was out of the country at the time. “We met at the rented guest house once or twice a month and had done so for many months,” one former detainee in Jeddah said. Many arrested Ahmadis had been working in Saudi Arabia for years, some for more than 20 years.

According to one released detainee, after the religious police arrested the group of Ahmadis in Jeddah, they transferred them to the Tamir local police station, where the men and the boys spent one night sleeping under guard in an open veranda. The police did not interrogate them, but made the adults sign forms in Arabic they did not understand, he said. Saudi authorities then moved the adults and children to Buraiman Prison, where they held them along with about 400 convicted criminals for 12 days and provided meager and poor quality food. Their Saudi visa sponsors managed to get all but four released pending their deportation.

Among the children were an 8-month-old infant and 13 other children ranging from 2 to 14 years of age. One of the detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that he pleaded with his sponsor to help arrange the release of his children from the detention center; subsequently, plainclothes policemen moved his children from the adult jail to a Social Observation Home, a juvenile detention center for children between the ages of 12 and 18 accused or convicted of a crime. Officials at the Observation Home, however, sent the children back to the prison, since they had no grounds to hold them.

Saudi authorities never charged the Ahmadis with a crime, but apparently arrested them under orders of Minister of Interior Prince Nayef, because of their faith. According to the former detainee in Jeddah, the only time officials mentioned possible wrongdoing came at the time of the arrest, when a member of the religious police reportedly said, “You need a permit to pray here.” He also reported that an officer at the Jeddah police station told the detainees that their arrest was due to their Ahmadi faith. One Ahmadi, Mr. Abd al-Sami, whom the secret police (intelligence) arrested in Jubail on January 8 and deported to Pakistan on January 18, told Human Rights Watch that his intelligence interrogator demanded to know, “How many people of your group are in other cities and who are they?” The interrogator then questioned him about specific names. Another former detainee in Jeddah told Human Rights Watch that his arresting officers said they had specific orders from Prince Nayef. According to the former detainee in Jeddah, when the sponsors of some of the detainees tried to obtain their release from prison, officials reportedly told them, “There is an order from Nayef, so don't come to try to release them.” Abd al-Sami, the Ahmadi man arrested in Jubail, also said that his interrogator told him straight away that “You must be gone” and that when his employer attempted to get him released, the intelligence official told him “I have a letter from high up in the Ministry [of Interior] saying these people must be deported.”

International human rights law protects the freedom of religion, including the “freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR). The Saudi government’s arrest and detention of members of the Ahmadi community solely on the basis of their religion is a grave violation of this right. Saudi government officials assured the United States government in July2006 that the kingdom would respect the right to private worship. In response, the United States chose not to impose sanctions for Saudi violations of religious freedom.

In addition, some of the arrests also violate Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which obligates Saudi Arabia to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents…” The Convention also requires the detention of juveniles be the last resort (Article 37(b)).

International human rights standards also require the separation of convicted prisoners from unconvicted detainees. “Persons in detention shall be subject to treatment appropriate to their unconvicted status. Accordingly, they shall, whenever possible, be kept separate from imprisoned persons” (Principle 8 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, 1988).

The detentions of the Ahmadis without charge or means of appeal ignore basic norms of due process, guaranteed under international human rights law: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” (Article 9, UDHR). “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him (Article 10, UDHR). By detaining the Ahmadis and their children along in a prison with common criminals Saudi authorities breached their obligations under international law.

An Indian diplomat Human Rights Watch spoke to said consular officials had visited Ahmadi detainees of Indian nationality, but Pakistani and Syrian diplomats never looked after their nationals, according to a former detainee. (One Ahmadi detainee is Syrian.)

Ahmadis consider themselves a Muslim sect founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in the 19th century. However, many Muslims view the Ahmadi faith as heretic due to the elevated status it affords to its founder. Ahmadis view themselves as Muslims, but have been legally declared non-Muslims in certain countries, such as Pakistan. There are approximately 20 million followers of the Ahmadi faith in the world, most in India, Pakistan, Ghana Burkina Faso, and Gambia.

Your Majesty, Human Rights Watch calls on your government to end the campaign of religious persecution of Ahmadis. The government should release all persons detained in this campaign, stop their deportation and readmit those already deported. Saudi Arabia should publicly commit and respect freedom of religion and freedom to peacefully assemble and pray with others, and it should bring those responsible for instigating and participating in religious persecution to justice.

We thank you in advance for your attention to this urgent matter.


Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director
Middle East & North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch


  • HRH Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa’ud, Ambassador to the United States of America
  • HRH Prince Nayef bin Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa’ud, Minister of Interior
  • Shaikh Turki bin Khalid al-Sudairy, President of the Human Rights Commission

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