The criminal justice system in Saudi Arabia does not meet basic international human rights standards of due process and fairness. This reality has wreaked havoc on the lives of migrant workers and their families. Interior ministry interrogators have tortured criminal suspects with impunity while they were held in incommunicado detention, forcing them to sign coerced confessions written in Arabic, a language that none of them could read. These confessions are often the only evidence presented at criminal trials in sharia courts, and judges typically do not appear interested in hearing about the circumstances under which the confessions were obtained. There is no legal aid system in Saudi Arabia to provide advice or representation to defendants who cannot afford to hire lawyers. These are not exceptional, one-off abuses. The material in this chapter demonstrates that the pattern is consistent and long-standing.
The Saudi government maintains that the kingdoms justice system ensures fairness and safeguards the rights of defendants. The criminal procedure code that came into effect in 2002 explicitly recognized the right of criminal suspects to legal counsel.256 Despite this, the government continues to emphasize that there is a limited role for defense lawyers in Saudi Arabia because, it says, sharia court judges also serve as lawyers for the defendants:
In Saudi Arabia the judge acts, in effect, as the defendants lawyer. He challenges every piece of evidence presented by the prosecution. Unlike judges in the West who simply act as umpires leaving the prosecution team and the defence team to influence the jury, our judges consider themselves personally accountable to God for every judgment they make. If a judge condemns a man who is innocent to death, the judge faces eternal divine punishment and he knows that. Among God-fearing men this is a mighty safeguard.257
This chapter documents cases of migrant workers who were subjected to arbitrary arrest and torture, and sentenced to prison terms following unfair trials that they did not fully comprehend and where no evidence was presented that they could challenge. In the absence of regular and unimpeded access of independent human rights monitors to the men and women migrants in Saudi Arabias prisons, it is impossible to reach an assessment of the prevalence of these and other abuses.
Another lurking danger for all migrant workers is the perceived and actual power of Saudi employers or other Saudi citizens -- to orchestrate their arrest on false charges. Workers may find themselves imprisoned as a consequence of insubordination or an attempt to flee, or as a preemptive measure to ensure that complaints about mistreatment do not reach Saudi authorities. If an employer finds out that one of his workers is planning to file a case in the labor court, he may have him arrested on trumped-up charges, said a Filipino migrant rights activist who was employed for many years in Saudi Arabia and closely observed the practices there. The mere suggestion of arrest is sometimes enough to silence exploited and intimidated workers, he added. 258
Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that Saudi authorities provide minimal information when foreigners are arrested as criminal suspects. Consular officials are denied prompt access to their nationals, and the Saudi government reveals little about the legal proceedings, including evidence presented to substantiate criminal charges. Some foreign governments have publicly expressed frustration about these practices.
In 2003, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the United Kingdom described to the House of Commons its experiences with the Saudi government following a car bombing in Riyadh in November 2000 that killed a British citizen. In the wake of this bombing and subsequent violent attacks that targeted foreign residents of the kingdom, Saudi authorities rounded up a number of Westerners as alleged suspects, most of them British citizens.259 The FCO stated that it immediately sought consular access to the men, using a variety of means including official level contacts with the Saudi authorities both in person and through formal diplomatic notes, and through high level political contacts both in Saudi Arabia and in the United Kingdom. But access to the detainees was only secured after repeated representations, the FCO reported. After access was granted, the ability of British diplomats to communicate freely with the detainees was also compromised. The FCO stated that access was restricted in terms of the length of the visits and of the range of topics which could be discussed. We complained about these restrictions to the Saudi authorities in Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, in official level and political contacts, in person and via formal diplomatic notes. According to the FCO, the British government was kept largely in the dark about the operation of the kingdoms justice system in this case:
An Indian diplomat also spoke publicly in 2003 about the frustrating lack of information when Indian citizens have been arrested on criminal charges in Saudi Arabia. V.V. Narayanan, second secretary at the Indian embassy in Riyadh, said in a television interview that diplomats were unable to directly approach the police or the courts to obtain details about Indians in detention. He explained that queries about arrested persons had to be routed through the Saudi foreign ministry, and this takes time. When the information was finally supplied, he said, it contained only the name of the arrestee, his passport number if available, the charge and the prison. Saudi government officials provided Indian diplomats with no other details about the cases of arrested Indian nationals, he said.261
The family of Udaykumaran Kizhakke Cholakkil, a twenty-six-year-old Indian migrant worker who was arrested in Saudi Arabia in February 1999, directly experienced the consequences of this lack of transparency. The Indian embassy in Riyadh inquired about Udaykumarans case on behalf of his family and received a reply from the Saudi foreign affairs ministry, dated May 8, 2000.262 The ministrys letter stated that Udaykumaran was accused in a drug case. The only additional information in the letter was this: The Ministry would like to inform the esteemed Embassy that it has received the reply of the authorities concerned stating that the case is still under consideration.263 Two weeks after the date of this letter, Udaykumaran was executed. His father told us that he learned about the execution quickly and unofficially -- from letters that inmates in Malaz prison in Riyadh mailed to him in India. The prisoners wrote that Udaykumaran was executed on May 30, 2000.264 It was not until December 4, 2000, that the Indian embassy in Riyadh was able to formally notify the family about the execution. The embassys letter cited a note verbale that the Saudi foreign affairs ministry sent to the embassy on November 11, 2000. The ministry stated that the date of execution was May 20, 2000.265
The Obligations of the Government of Saudi Arabia under International Law
Saudi Arabia is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the international treaty that codifies the rights of consular officials and foreign nationals in member states.266 Saudi interior ministry authorities have consistently violated article 36 of this convention, which establishes the right of consular officers to prompt notification about the arrest of their nationals.267 The treaty also guarantees consular officials the right of access to and free communication with imprisoned foreign nationals.268
The Saudi governments consistent flaunting of these treaty obligations is a serious breach of its responsibilities under international law. Steps should be taken immediately to ensure that the relevant government ministries, including the interior ministry, adhere to the provisions of the Vienna Convention.
The importance of adherence to the Vienna Convention was recognized in a landmark decision in 2004 of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ ruled, in Mexico v. United States of America, that the United States had not complied with its international obligations under article 36 of the Vienna Convention when it did not notify Mexican consular officials without delay of the detention of Mexican nationals sentenced to death in U.S. courts. The court also found that the U.S. government deprived Mexican authorities of the right, in a timely fashion, to communicate with and have access to those nationals and to visit them in detention.269 The ICJ ruling stated that [t]he rights guaranteed under the Vienna Convention are treaty rights which the United States has undertaken to comply with in relation to the individual concerned, irrespective of the due process rights under United States constitutional law.
The court also emphasized the broader significance of the case:
Particularly in light of this decision of the International Court of Justice, Saudi government authorities should review the interior ministrys arrest and detention procedures as an urgent matter. The interior ministry should be specifically instructed to ensure that all of its security and law enforcement officials, and subordinate personnel, are informed of the legal requirements of the Vienna Convention. The government should also publicly announce that the rights of foreign nationals in Saudi custody will be strictly enforced pursuant to the provisions of the Vienna Convention.
Reported cases of women migrant workers arrested in Saudi Arabia typically involve criminal offenses linked to actual or suspected private behavior. Consensual sexual relations between unmarried couples are prohibited under the Saudi judiciarys interpretation of sharia, and migrant women living in the kingdom without husbands who become pregnant, whether through consensual sex or rape, have faced arrest and imprisonment for these reasons. In January 2003, Human Rights Watch representatives encountered several young Indonesian women with their newborn babies in Malaz womens prison in Riyadh. These Indonesians, Saudi women staff at the prison told us, were imprisoned for illegal pregnancies.270 In other cases, we found women who were arrested on complaints of their employers, including allegedly false accusations.
The Indonesian embassy in Riyadh documented in 2001 the cases of ninety-two migrant women who were imprisoned in the kingdom. Almost half of them -- 48 percent -- were arrested for being in the company of men who were not their husbands. Another 16 percent were in custody because they were raped, pregnant, or gave birth. The remaining women were arrested for fleeing their places of employment (11 percent); theft (10 percent); assaulting their employers, through witchcraft, putting urine/feces in their drinking water, intimidation, using a knife (5 percent); reporting their employers for physical and sexual abuse (4 percent), and prostitution (2 percent).271
Human Rights Watch had the opportunity to speak with some imprisoned women migrants during a short visit in 2003 to Malaz womens prison, which the Saudi foreign ministry arranged. The circumstances of the visit permitted only brief private conversations in a classroom where a group of foreign women were studying. Their comments to us made clear that they did not know their rights under Saudi law and, in some cases, had no knowledge of the specific criminal charges against them or the status of their cases. Some complained about having no access to lawyers or legal assistance. One woman from the Philippines told Human Rights Watch that there were hundreds of migrant women in the prison facing these difficulties.
A few of the women were able to summarize quickly their stories, and others all from the Philippines -- managed to send letters to Human Rights Watch, which reached us months later. All of these letters were mailed from the Philippines, indicating that the women were unable to mail letters freely from the prison, an issue that some of them complained about.
Mercedes, a migrant worker from the Philippines, told us that she had worked in the kingdom for twenty years, including a job in a Western embassy. She said that she was imprisoned in Malaz for the past five years, having been convicted on drug charges and sentenced to ten years. According to Mercedes, she had no legal assistance and no evidence was ever presented at her trial that she could challenge. Insisting on her innocence, she pleaded with us for help, saying: We cannot fight for our rights here.272
Two women migrant workers informed us that they were imprisoned on charges of sorcery or witchcraft. Rama, a domestic worker from Indonesia, said that her employer had accused her of sorcery, which she described as a false accusation. She did not have a lawyer and did not understand much about her case, other than that she was sentenced to ten months in prison but at the time of the interview had alreadyserved eleven months.273 Lolita,a twenty-eight-year-old mother of three from the Philippines, said that she was on her first assignment as a domestic worker in Riyadh when she was arrested. She said that she was imprisoned because her employer accused her of being a witch and practicing magic. The evidence, she said, was a small piece of paper with Arabic writing that was in her possession. Lolita wrote that she was innocent, but had no right to fight for justice.274
Three women said that their cases began when the religious police took them into custody. Howla, a Muslim from the Philippines, wrote to us that she was employedin the kingdomas a domestic worker for a little over one year when she was arrested on January 27, 2003. She stated that the religious police brought her to the prison on suspicion of some type of undefined involvement with her employers driver. According to Howla, her employer complained to the religious police after observing her on a video camera while she opened the gate of his home, looked at the driver, and then closed the gate. The driver was outside and we did not talk, she wrote, but that is why I am here in jail. Howla added this: I have no rights, no power, no justice. I want to leave this country as soon as possible.275
Adelina, also from the Philippines, wrote that the religious police arrested her on April 20, 2002, and she remained in Malaz prison on charges of forgery because her residency permit was not authentic. She pointed out that these permits are written in Arabic, which she cannot read, and that it is Saudi employers who are responsible for providing workers with these official identification documents. How would I know that it was a fake? Its so unfair that I should be the one in prison, she argued. Adelina said that she was suffering from high blood pressure from the stress of her predicament. She added that she was a single parent and had no contact with her children in the Philippines since her arrest because sending and receiving letters are strictly prohibited here. She also wrote that in addition to prison terms, women have been sentenced to a minimum of 200 and a maximum of 2,000 lashes.276
A thirty-two-year-old Yemeni woman, the mother of six children, told us that she had been in the prison for two months. She said that the religious police in Riyadh arrested her and five Saudi women companions, and held them in custody for one day. Her Saudi friends were released, but she was transferred to Malaz prison. She did not understand the legal basis on which she was being held.277
When we met briefly in the womens prison with Ami, a skilled Filipina worker with four children in college, she told us that she did not have a lawyer and that there was no one to help her.In a follow-up letter, she provided some information about her case. She worked for fourteen years in the kingdom as the master cutter in a dress shop. She said that she was arrested on February 19, 2002, following a dispute with her Saudi employer, whom she claimed owes her 126,000 riyals about $33,600 in wages that went unpaid for seven years.278 According to Ami, the employer also allowed her residency permit to expire. She repeated her complaint that she has had no legal assistance since her arrest and emphasized her need for a lawyer. She did not explain the reasons or circumstances of her trial, but wrote that her two requests to have her case reviewed by a higher court were refused.279
Our research indicated that imprisoned male migrant workers are permitted to send letters to their families directly from prisons, but women are not. If this continues to be the prevailing practice of the interior ministrys prison administration, it represents gross gender discrimination and should be rectified as an urgent matter. The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, state that prisoners shall be allowed under necessary supervision to communicate with their family and reputable friends at regular intervals, both by correspondence and by receiving visits.280 A basic principle of the rules is that they shall be applied impartially, with no discrimination on grounds of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. 281 Women prisoners in Saudi Arabia must be afforded the same rights and privileges that are provided to their male counterparts.
Testimonial evidence that Human Rights Watch has collected indicates a pattern of human rights abuses in the criminal justice system of Saudi Arabia. These accounts demonstrate the continuity and consistency of the allegations of torture and coerced confessions by victims unknown to one another, and interviewed separately from countries as diverse as India, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom. Saudi Arabias criminal procedure code, which came into force in 2002, provides specific rights to legal assistance and some transparency with respect to court judgments.282 Cases in this report that occurred after the code was implemented indicate that implementation measures designed to afford greater guarantees for a fair trial were not operative.
Joselito Alejo: Five years in prison before a court appearance
The story of Joselito Alejo from the Philippines illustrates the range of abuses in the kingdoms justice system, including prolonged detention before trial, threats and torture during interrogation, and coercion of a confession. Joselito was arrested in 1997 in connection with the murder of a Saudi policeman that he told Human Rights Watch he knew nothing about. He described how he was tortured during interrogation and forced to sign a confession, and was not brought before a court for the first time until 2002, five years later. The Philippines foreign affairs department reported in 2000 that the Saudi government had not yet responded to its request for the immediate filing of charges against Joselito and two other Filipinos held as suspects, Ramiro Esmero and Romeo Cordova.283 Joselito was finally released from prison in 2003, but had to remain in the kingdom for additional legal proceedings and did not return home until later that year.
Joselito told us that at the time of his arrest, he was in his fifth year of employment as a tractor trailer driver for a company in Tabuk. He recounted that on July 29, 1997, he drove from Tabuk to Jeddah and unloaded his cargo there. He then traveled to Riyadh, where he slept for the night at the house of a Filipino friend. At about six in the morning, there was a knock at the door. Three policemen had arrived, and asked for a Joselito without giving a family name. Joselitos friend pointed him out. They woke me up and slapped me on the face three times. Then they made me face the wall, and cuffed my hands and ankles. They did not ask any questions, Joselito said. Inside the car, Major Jabbar slapped my face and kept asking me who killed Otaibi, he continued. Joselito said he did not know who Otaibi was. (Fahad al-Otaibi, a Saudi law enforcement officer, was found murdered in Riyadh.)
Joselito was detained at a police station in Riyadh for almost two months in solitary confinement with three weeks of torture, he said. For the first three days and two nights, he was not allowed to sleep and had no water or food. He said that he was held in a small cell, about three by two meters, with no window. A bright light bulb on the ceiling made it impossible to sleep. He said that he was in chains around the clock. There were no bed or blankets, and no toilet or other provision in the cell for sanitation. In the morning, you were allowed two minutes to go to the [bath]room, and they always punched you before letting you outside, he said. Sometimes, he added, urine was thrown into the cell.
Three to four times a day, he was moved from his solitary cell to an interrogation room: So many people were asking me questions, slapping me all the time, threatening me. They said, You wont be brought to court; well kill you right here. It was a nightmare for me. Joselito said that he wanted to present his drivers trip log as proof of his whereabouts, but they tore it up. His interrogators wrote a statement in Arabic and Joselito, exhausted, signed it in triplicate.
From the police station, he was moved to an underground facility at the governors office in Riyadh, where he was held in solitary confinement for six weeks, and then to Malaz prison, also in Riyadh, for another four months in solitary. When Joselito was released from solitary, he kept busy by working in the prison. He had no news about his case: Embassy officials visited only three times in four years and said they knew nothing. After almost five years, it was the newly appointed director of Malaz prison, Colonel Muhana, who helped Joselito with his case, which apparently had been forgotten. The director found the case file in the police station where Joselito was first detained and interrogated.
Joselito told Human Rights Watch that he appeared in court for the first time on June 11, 2002, before a three-judge panel. The judges asked if he knew Fahad al-Oteibi, the murder victim, if he killed him, or if he witnessed the killing. According to Joselito, the prosecutor admitted that there was no case and told the judge to release me. He was returned to the court six days later, and there was another hearing on July 2, 2002. Joselito did not have a lawyer. The two representatives of the Philippines embassy were not allowed to attend the first hearing, and they did not come to the court for the subsequent hearings. At the final session, the judge announced that the case was finished, and asked all three defendants to sign a log book in which the courts decision was written in Arabic. Joselito was unable to read the handwritten text. In August 2002, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila announced that the three defendants were acquitted during a recent hearing of the case because the representative of the victim failed to appear in court. The press statement gave no indication of why the three men were held for so long without trial.284
Joselito was released from prison into the custody of the Philippines embassy on January 19, 2003, almost five and a half years after his arrest. He could not leave the kingdom until Saudi authorities issued him an exit visa.285 I waited nine months for that visa, Joselito said bitterly. On June 10, 2003, the embassy informed Joselito that his presence was required the next day for a final hearing at the office of the governor of Riyadh. I knew that interrogations took place there and I refused to go. I told the vice consul that I had no confidence in the embassy staff, that there was no court in the governors office, and asked if the embassy had assurances that I would not be arrested again, he told us. On June 16, Joselito was led to believe that embassy representatives were accompanying him to a government office to obtain his exit visa, but he was instead taken to a court without any warning. This is not immigration, this is a court! Joselito said he told the consular officials. This is Saudi procedure, one of the diplomats replied. They waited outside the courtroom for an hour, and Joselito told us that the diplomats assured him that his appearance was only a formality.
When the case was called, Joselito saw the old files and asked the judge to explain what was happening. Your file is here. We are studying the case, the judge replied. Joselito tried to explain that a higher court heard the case and issued a judgment in 2002, but the Filipino interpreter interrupted. He told me to shut up, and speak only if the judge asked questions. The judge then gave the date of the next session, which embassy personnel were not permitted to attend, although the interpreter was present. The judge asked the same questions that the other judges posed to Joselito in 2002: Did you know Otaibi? Did you kill Otaibi? Did you see the killing?
Joselito told us that he was instructed to return on July 2, 2003, for the courts decision. He said that the judge referred to the Arabic confession that he signed in 1997, and sentenced him to 350 lashes for not telling the truth. Noting that Joselito had already served almost six years in prison, the judge did not impose a prison term. Joselito described what happened next:
The judge showed no interest in Joselitos allegations of mistreatment and torture which led to his coerced confession. The judge apparently accepted that Joselito was telling the truth before his court but sought to punish him for signing a false statement in 1997.286
William Sampson and James Cottle: Confessions Extracted under Torture
More recently, William Sampson, who was arrested in Saudi Arabia in December 2000 following a series of bombings in which Westerners were killed and injured, disclosed publicly how his confession was coerced. William, a British-Canadian dual national, and five other British suspects all of whom worked in the kingdom -- were shown on Saudi television on two occasions in 2001 confessing to the bombings. They were subsequently secretly tried and sentenced to terms ranging from twelve years to the death penalty. William Sampson and another suspect, Alexander Mitchell, were sentenced to death; the men sentenced to long prison terms were Peter Brandon, James Cottle, James Lee, and Les Walker.287
William was released with the other defendants on August 8, 2003 in a royal clemency. He wrote about his interrogation and torture in a series of articles published in September 2003 in the National Post, a leading Canadian daily newspaper. From time to time, he wrote, his interrogators threatened him with the use of electric shocks. I was told they would continue to apply this pressure until We have put you in the right way, and we get your mind right.
He described one of the worst beatings that he said his two interrogators meted out to him:
His false confession followed:
James Cottle, a fifty-two-year-old British citizen, was arrested in Bahrain in June 2001 as one of the suspects in the same case as William Sampson. Bahraini authorities transferred him to Saudi custody, where he said he was held in Riyadh for the first ten weeks in a small solitary cell. In an interview with a British daily newspaper in 2004, James described eight weeks of intimidating and harsh interrogation:
They just kept shouting confess. They told me I would be executed and said if I confessed they would try to stop it. I was chained to my cell door for six days with my hands tied together.
James reportedly was regularly made to stand with his arms in the air and forced to lie on the floor and lift his arms and legs for hours at a time, and was "hit with a pickaxe handle" if he did not comply.292 According to James Cottles lawyer, independent forensic experts in London and Denmark documented medical evidence consistent with his allegations.293
In February 2004, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal summarily dismissed the torture allegations of William Sampson, James Cottle, and the other foreign nationals released with them in August 2003. Commenting about the lawsuit that some of the men filled in the United Kingdoms High Court against their Saudi interrogators and the minister of interior, seeking compensation for their mistreatment, the foreign minister said: This claim is not serious in my opinion and will not be accepted in the courts. Our hope was that they would not take these measures because in fact the kingdom took good care of them.294
This case has received extensive international publicity from earliest days of the mens detention. Non-Western workers in Saudi Arabia also have complained about torture during interrogation, coerced confessions, and unfair trials, but their voices are rarely heard and receive no international media attention. The stories of some of them are described below.
Selvamony Ponnuraj: Third degree methods and a death sentence
The only son in an impoverished family in Tamil Nadu, India -- Selvamony Ponnuraj -- was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia in 2002 for a crime that he told his family he did not commit. We visited the family on their small plot of land in southwestern India that yields coconuts, mangos, and tamarind. Ponnurajs elderly parents were too ill to be interviewed, and other family members provided details about his case.
They told us that in October 1992, when Ponnuraj was in his twenties and working locally as a mason, he sold his sisters gold and borrowed money from a cousin to pay an agent in Mumbai 37,000 rupees for an employment visa to Saudi Arabia. He was first employed as a mason in Tabuk, and then his sponsor transferred him to a salesmans job in a textile shop. Ponnuraj sent about 5,000 rupees to his family every two or three months, but never returned home on leave because his sponsor would not permit it, relatives said. The family received news from Ponnuraj through letters that friends wrote on his behalf because he is illiterate.
In early 2003, the family became worried because Ponnuraj had not contacted them for ten months, which they told us was unusual. They managed to obtain the telephone number of his Indian roommate in Tabuk and learned from him that Ponnuraj was in prison. The roommate told the family that there had been a fire in the textile shop and all the employees were arrested, pending the return of the owner. When the family spoke to the roommate again, he provided a different account, based on what he said he learned from a telephone call with Ponnuraj in prison. Ponnuraj explained that he had caught a Saudi woman stealing in his shop, and she retaliated with the accusation that he raped her seven-year-old daughter.
Ponnurajs family enlisted help from literate Indians, and in February 2003 sent written inquiries to various Indian government officials about the case. They received the first official notification from the Indian consulate in Jeddah in a letter dated June 22, 2003. It confirmed that Ponnuraj was arrested and charged with rape in 2002, confessed his guilt in court, and was sentenced to death. The consulate noted, however, that Ponnuraj claimed that police extracted his confession with third degree methods and forced him to sign on the papers to be submitted to the court.
The full text of the consulates letter follows:
The family in India heard nothing more until Ponnuraj managed to speak to them in a brief call from a cell phone in prison. He called three months ago, and was crying the entire time, his cousin told us. He said that he was innocent, never committed a mistake, but the police forced him to sign blank pieces of paper. Ponnuraj also mentioned that he never received a visit from the Saudi sponsor who employed him for ten years.296
Salfan Sajeer: They inflicted a lot of torture on me.
The only son of Sulfath Beevi, a forty-five-year-old Indian whose husband left her two decades ago, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since 1997. Sulfath is convinced that her son, Salfan Sajeer, was wrongly convicted as an accessory to murder. Her belief is based on what Sajeer wrote to her from prison, including allegations of prolonged solitary confinement and torture. She has no information about the details of Sajeers trial and the evidence used to convict him.
Sajeer traveled to the kingdom as an agricultural laborer in October 1995 when he was seventeen years old. His passport was falsified to indicate his age as twenty-two. His mother paid 49,000 rupees to a travel agency for the visa and other costs from money she had saved over eight years as a domestic worker in Dubai. His Saudi sponsor was good. At first Sajeer had a problem with the heat, so after a brief period the sponsor shifted him from the farm to his shop, and then back to the farm again, his mother said. Sajeer earned 500 riyals a month, and sent money to his mother on a regular basis.
After ten months in the kingdom, Sajeer gave an Indian returning to Kerala two saris and 2,000 rupees in cash to give to his mother. The man delivered the gifts and then informed Sulfath that he had learned, after returning to India, that her son had been arrested. He told me that it was about something small, and not to worry, that he would be out in six months. I did not know this man and never saw him again, Sulfath told us.
She waited six months and heard nothing from Sajeer, who had written letters to her on a regular basis before his arrest. After about one year, an Indian who was imprisoned with Sajeer returned home and told Sulfath that her son had been sentenced to twelve years in prison. He said that Sajeer and nine other men Pakistanis, Indians, and Arabs were arrested when the fourteen-year-old nephew of Sajeers sponsor was killed. According to this released prisoner, Sajeer was tortured brutally, denied food and water, and not allowed to sleep for eleven days. His physical condition deteriorated and he was eventually fed intravenously, the former prisoner said.
In a letter dated July 20, 1998, Sajeer provided his mother with the most substantive information she has about the case. First, he swore that he knew nothing about the killing of the boy. Sajeer worked from five in the morning until late at night, with a break for lunch. I never even saw his dead body. When I returned from work at eleven at night, I saw a lot of police. I greeted them and they asked my name. They demanded the full name on my passport. Then the other workers came and they made them stand to the side. The police also brought the two brothers of the dead boy and the son of my sponsor, he wrote.
The men were brought to the police station and questioned. Since I do not know much Arabic, I could not understand their questions, Sajeer wrote. He added:
Sajeer had little to say that was informative about his legal proceedings. Nothing has happened, he wrote, adding that he was brought to the court two times and asked if he knew who killed the boy. That was five months ago, he commented. Sajeers mother believes that he does not know how and when he was sentenced. A communication from the Indian embassy in Riyadh to the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicates that Sajeer may have already been convicted and sentenced to a prison term of six years, without his knowledge, at the time he wrote his July 1998 letter. The embassys letter, dated December 18, 2002, requests Sajeers release on humanitarian grounds, stating that he was detained on charges of murder and has already completed his six years of imprisonment.298
According to released prisoners who contacted Sajeers mother, three Pakistanis and two Bangladeshis were executed for the murder, Sajeer was sentenced to twelve years, and the Arab suspects were released.299
Saudi Arabias interior ministry provides only scant public information about such cases. On June 16, 2000, it reported that three Pakistani nationals and two Bangladeshis were executed in Riyadh for trying to lure a boy and stabbing him to death when he resisted. According to the Reuters news agency, two Indian men and another three Bangladeshis were found guilty of abetting the crime and were sentenced to varying prison terms and flogging. The report said that Saudi authorities gave no further details.300 This may be the report about Sajeers case, but the minimal information provided in such official statements makes confirmation difficult.
Abdul Nasir: I was thoroughly tortured for the first two days.
In a case from 2002, Abdul Nasir, a twenty-three-year-old Indian tailor from the Areecode district of Kerala state, claimed that he was beaten for two days after his arrest in Jeddah and on the third day was forced to sign a confession in Arabic that he could not read. He traveled to Saudi Arabia on an umrah visa, with a plan was to locate fellow Keralites who he hoped would help him find a job. Two months after his arrival, five policemen raided the apartment where he was living with four Indian roommates. He said that his friends spoke to the police in Arabic, which he was unable to understand, but noticed a policeman holding a powdered substance that he could not identify. Abdul Nasir said that he was the only person arrested in the raid.
At the police station, he was questioned through an Indian interpreter who spoke his native Malayalam. He told the police that he had no knowledge or information about the powder or any other drugs. I was thoroughly tortured for the first two days, Abdul Nasir asserted. He said on the first day in custody, four policemen beat him with their hands and with sticks. On the second day, two policemen did the same. The interpreter was in the room during these beatings, urging Abdul Nasir to make a confession. They kept asking me where I got the drugs and who I was going to give them to. I kept repeating that I did not know anything, he said. On the third day, he was asked the same questions but was not beaten. Then he was presented with two pages of handwritten Arabic and was instructed to sign three times on each page. I was so afraid that I did not dare to ask what the papers were or what was written on them, he remarked.
After fifteen days, Abdul Nasir was transferred to Buraiman prison in Jeddah, where he waited three months for his first court appearance. He was brought before one judge, who spent a few minutes on the case: He asked me if I knew Arabic and I said I knew a little. So the charge sheet was read to me. The judge wanted my reaction and I said ma fi. [literally, I do not have anything,] Then he signed it and stamped it with the court seal.
This apparently was the full scope of the trial, and Abdul Nasir was returned to the prison. Three and a half months later, he was removed from his cell and told to wait in a room until his name was called. This is how he was informed that he had been sentenced to one years imprisonment for drug offenses. He had no idea of the evidence that was used to convict him and had no opportunity to challenge it. It never occurred to him, he admitted, to ask for a consular visit or legal assistance, although he said he never saw an Indian diplomat visiting any inmates in Buraiman prison.
He was released after eleven months and transferred to the adjacent deportation jail where he was held for one week until he was deported. Abdul Nasir has not repaid the loan of 36,000 rupees that financed his visa to Saudi Arabia. At the time of his interview, he was employed as a day worker near his village, retrieving and drying river sand.301
Abdel Karim: Unfair trial in 2001
In 2001, an Indian Muslim migrant worker who was arrested on allegedly false charges was presumed guilty in court and never informed of the outcome of his trial. Abdel Karim (not his real name), a native of Kerala state, started working legally in Saudi Arabia in 1995, when he was twenty-one years old. He was employed for four and a half years in Jeddah and was also active in the Saudi Malayalee Association, a nongovernmental organization.302 The group, which Abdel Karim said had the support of the Indian embassy, sponsored cultural programs for the Malayalee community and invited performers from Kerala for concerts of dance and song. He said that members of the religious police attended the major programs and watched.
In 2000, Abdel Karim and three other leaders of the association were arrested, along with about twenty other members, following the postponement of a program that had been announced featuring a well-known film actor from Kerala. Before the cancellation, Saudi authorities had asked if the association was charging admission. Abdel Karim said the group made clear that there was no entrance fee but admission passes were distributed to restrict the size of the audience. Four or five days after the program was postponed, Abdel Karim was arrested. Policemen came to my apartment in the early morning. They were in plainclothes. They never said a single word and I started beating them I thought that they were thieves, he told Human Rights Watch. He said a police vehicle was waiting downstairs and he was transported to Sharifiya police station, where he saw the others from the association.
Abdel Karim was questioned at the police station for four or five days: The main questions were: Did I organize this program? And what happened to the money that was collected? Abdel Karim explained repeatedly that there was no admission price for the event, and suggested that the police contact the Indian consulate to verify this. He said the police called him a thief, and accused him of using the alleged proceeds from the cancelled event to purchase the apartment that he had been living in for the past seven months. His sponsor was summoned but he never came because he did not like me.
From the police station, Abdel Karim alone among his associates -- was transferred to Buraiman prison in Jeddah. He said that he did not learn the charges against him until he was brought handcuffed to a court and the judge told him: You are a Muslim according to your iqama, but you organized a Hindu program.303 The judge added, according to Abdel Karim, that witnesses who saw the program could testify that five thousand people danced naked and drunk. The second time Abdel Karim appeared before this judge, the judge repeated the same allegation and then asked for proof that Abdel Karim was a Muslim, remarking that the kafirs [unbelievers] also have the same name. The judge asked Abdel Karim if he knew the Holy Koran. I told him that I did, and then I recited from memory and also read from the book, he said. Then the judge asked me to perform the first morning prayer in front of him and I refused. I told him that it was not the time for this prayer.
A few weeks later, Abdel Karim was brought to the same building but appeared before a another judge who asked him similar questions about the Hindu program. According to Abdel Karim, Whenever I answered, the judge called me a liar. He was brought to court two more times, but never was presented with evidence to substantiate the charges. He was moved to Malaz prison in Riyadh. I waited for the court judgment but it never came, he said. After three weeks, he was transferred to the deportation jail. They wanted me to pay for my return ticket, but I told them that I did not have the money, he said. He managed to contact distant relatives who worked in Saudi Arabia, who brought the money for his ticket. The personal belongings in his apartment, including his computer, were not returned to him. Abdel Karim said that the police retrieved his passport from the sponsor and returned it to him at the airport. He was deported on February 19, 2001.304
Rajiv: Unfair trial in 2002
Migrant workers have also been arrested and charged with criminal offenses on the basis of allegedly false complaints by sponsors and employers to the police. While Human Rights Watch has no access to the kingdom for research and thus no way of weighing the truth or falsity of such complaints, we do know that migrants are denied internationally recognized due process rights that would enable them to more openly and fully challenge such allegedly false complaints.
Rajiv, a forty-two-year-old Indian who returned from Saudi Arabia in 2003, told Human Rights Watch that he was arrested while he was in the midst of an ongoing dispute with his sponsor about more than a years worth of unpaid wages (see Chapter 5 for additional information about this aspect of his story). He said that police officers arrived at his apartment, asked for him by name, and transported him in a van to Shaqra jail in Sulfit, near Qassim. Rajiv told us that he learned he was arrested because his sponsors Indonesian housemaid was pregnant and the sponsor informed the police that he found Rajivs telephone number in her possession.
Rajiv was held for nine months in Shaqra jail and then was moved to al-Hair prison in Riyadh in March 2003. 305 He told us that Indian consular officials never visited him in Shaqra or al-Hair. It was not until ten months after his arrest that Rajiv was brought before a court for the first time, his legs and wrists in shackles. He said that there were four officials whom he assumed were the judges, and a Pakistani served as interpreter because Rajiv had some fluency in Urdu. He told us that the short court session consisted of no more than some perfunctory questions. I told the judges that I had no idea how this woman got my phone number, he said.
He was returned to the court one week later and asked the same questions again. I said that I was totally innocent, and told them to take my blood samples and those of the maid and the child I had nothing to hide, he said. Twelve days later, there was a third session before one judge, with the same questions repeated. The judge sentenced Rajiv to one year in prison for sexual intercourse with the Indonesian woman, whose name he learned was Nasuka. She was never brought to court to confront him, he was not shown her photograph, and no evidence was ever presented to him to substantiate the charge. Rajiv was returned to al-Hair and after twenty-eight days was transferred back to Shaqra. He was released in July 2003, after serving thirteen months in prison. Rajiv was unable to press a legal claim for his unpaid wages.306
Saudi Arabia is obligated under its own laws and international human rights law to protect everyone on its territory from torture and ill treatment, and to afford fair trials to individuals arrested for criminal offenses. The kingdoms law of criminal procedure specifically prohibits torture and degrading treatment of persons under arrest and in detention.307 Saudi Arabia is also a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), but government authorities continue to violate its provisions with impunity.
Testimonies in this report indicate that torture and other cruel treatment continue to be used to obtain confessions from migrant workers arrested and detained on suspicion of committing criminal offenses under Saudi law. It appears that lower and appellate sharia court judges continue to accept confessions as the sole evidence of the commission of a crime without probing how the confessions were obtained and if they were given voluntarily.308 As reprehensible as these practices are, an equal failing is the routine and repeated refusal of senior Saudi government officials to acknowledge their legal obligations under CAT to investigate allegations of torture, which makes them complicit in this grave human rights abuse.
In the case of William Sampson, described above, the Saudi government officials categorically denied his detailed torture allegations. The ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Ottawa, Canada, Dr. Mohammed R. al-Hussaini, maintained in a statement issued on September 10, 2003, that William Sampson was not tortured in interior ministry custody. I deny that Mr. Sampson was subjected to torture, he said.309 On September 22, 2003, Ambassador Hussaini delivered a note verbale from his government to John McNee, the Canadian foreign ministrys assistant deputy minister for Africa and the Middle East. "The request [from the Canadian government] to conduct an open investigation into Mr. Sampson's allegations of torture goes against all laws and regulations, both within the kingdom and internationally,'' the note stated.310
The governments position is not in compliance with the kingdoms obligations under international law. Saudi Arabia is a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and the provisions of this international treaty are part of the kingdoms domestic law. Article 12 of the convention requires government authorities to conduct prompt and independent investigations of torture complaints:
The torture convention also legally obligates Saudi Arabia to provide impartial mechanisms for alleged torture victims to submit complaints:
The torture convention also provides individuals with the right to redress and compensation for acts of torture.312
It has proved difficult if not impossible for foreigners particularly migrant workers of limited financial means and other resources even to contemplate the exercise of this right. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that thousands of migrant workers serving time in Saudi prisons will be deported at the end of their sentences without any opportunity to complain about torture and seek a remedy. The Saudi government should state clearly and publicly how foreigners who claim to have suffered abuse under interrogation can effectively pursue a remedy. The government has an obligation to explain to migrant workers who allege that they were tortured that they also have the right under Saudi law to seek redress, as well as the right to fair and adequate compensation. Migrants should be afforded the practical opportunity to seek such redress before they are summarily deported from the kingdom.
The Saudi government is also legally obligated to provide the right to a fair trial to citizens and foreigners alike. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affords to every person the right in full equality to a fair trial.313 The testimonies in this report indicate that migrant workers in Saudi Arabia continue to be denied this right with impunity, including cases where defendants faced capital punishment and were executed.
Migrant workers facing criminal investigation and prosecution in Saudi Arabia should be afforded the opportunity of legal counsel. The kingdoms new criminal procedure code explicitly provides for this right. Article 4 states: Any accused person shall have the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer or a representative (wakil, in Arabic) to defend him during the investigation and trial stages. The right to legal assistance is affirmed again in article 64.314
The government should clarify its policy with respect to migrant worker criminal suspects who cannot afford to hire lawyers or whose embassies do not provide them with legal assistance. International human rights standards affirm that legalassistance for a defendant is a basic requirement for preparing a defense and ensuring a fair trial.315
 Article 4 of the criminal procedure code states: Any accused person shall have the right to seek the assistance of a lawyer or a representative to defend him during the investigation and trial stages.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Quezon City, Philippines, December 8, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch followed this case closely. For additional information, see Human Rights Watch, The Criminal Justice System in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Recommendations for Basic Human Rights Protections, May 2003, http://hrw.org/press/2003/05/saudimemo0503.htm
 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Memorandum transmitted in Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from the Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 13 October 2003.See Appendix B for the full text of this memorandum.
 Pravasa Lokam, Kairali Channel, July 3, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch inteview, Ottaplam, Palakkad, Kerala, India, November 30, 2003.
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 4/2/1421AH (corr. To 8/5/2000), No. 94/74/94/13863. A copy of the letter is on file at Human Rights Watch.
 One letter, dated May 30, 2000, was written in Tamil from Section 13 of the prison; the other, dated June 6, 2000, was written in Malayalam.
 Formal Notification from Embassy of India, Riyadh, December 4, 2000, No. RIY/CW/436/640/2000 to Chandran Kizhakke Cholakkil (the father of Udaykumaran).
 Saudi Arabia acceded to the Vienna convention in 1988.
 Article 36(1)(b) of the Vienna convention states: [I]f he so requests, the competent authorities of the receiving State shall, without delay, inform the consular post of the sending State if, within its consular district, a national of that State is arrested or committed to prison or to custody pending trial or is detained in any other manner. Any communication addressed to the consular post by the person arrested, in prison, custody or detention shall also be forwarded by the said authorities without delay. The said authorities shall inform the person concerned without delay of his rights under this sub-paragraph.
 Article 36(1)(c) of the Vienna convention states: [C]onsular officers shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation. They shall also have the right to visit any national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention in their district in pursuance of a judgment. Nevertheless, consular officers shall refrain from taking action on behalf of a national who is in prison, custody or detention if he expressly opposes such action.
 International Court of Justice, Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America), 31 March 2004, General List No. 128.
 It was not possible during this brief prison visit to interview the Indonesian women privately and obtain additional information about their cases.
 The embassy study is cited in Indonesian Migrant Workers: Systematic Abuse at Home and Abroad, Indonesian Country Report to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Kuala Lumpur, June 2, 2002.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Malaz womens prison, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 28, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Malaz womens prison, Riyadh, January 28, 2003.
 Letter to Human Rights Watch, undated, received April 8, 2003.
 Letter to Human Rights Watch, February 3, 2003.
 Letter to Human Rights Watch, January 30, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch interviews, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 28, 2003.
 In December 2003, Human Rights Watch interviewed another Filipina who had worked as a master cutter in Saudi Arabia for ten years. Her starting salary was $250 a month and was gradually raised to $700 a month, or $8,400 annually.
 Letter to Human Rights Watch, February 1, 2003.
 Rule 37. The Economic and Social Council approved the Standard Minimum Rules with its resolutions in July 1957 and May 1977.
 Rule 6(1).
 For an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the criminal procedure code, see Human Rights Watch, The Criminal Justice System in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Recommendations for Basic Human Rights Protections, May 2003.
 Melissa Q. Manalang, OFWs in Saudi await trial, Business World (Philippines), September 4, 2000.
 Department of Foreign Affairs, Manila, Three OFWs in Saudi Arabia Acquitted of Murder Charges, Press Release No. 129-02, August 2, 2002.
 All foreign residents of Saudi Arabia require an exit visa to depart the kingdom.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Quezon City, Philippines, December 15, 2003 and December 20, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch followed this case closely. For additional information and analysis, see Human Rights Watch, The Criminal Justice System in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Recommendations for Basic Human Rights Protections, Background Briefing, May 28, 2003, http://hrw.org/press/2003/05/saudimemo0503.htm
 William Sampson with Francine Dube, My eleven days of Saudi torture, National Post, September 8, 2003.
 William Sampson with Francine Dube, I was having a heart attack, National Post, September 9, 2003.
 William Sampson with Francine Dube, My eleven days of Saudi torture, National Post, September 8, 2003.
 See Blaise Tapp, Grandads Saudi jail torture nightmare, Manchester Evening News (UK), March 17, 2004.
 Statement, Press Conference in London, February 25, 2004.
 Quentin Webb, Expatriates Sue Saudi Arabia for Torture, Reuters, February 25, 2004.
 From S. L.Sagar, Consul, Community Welfare and Head of Chancery, Consulate General of India, Jeddah, to Selvamony, the father of Ponnuraj. Reference: No. Jed/CW/235/14/2003, June 22, 2003. The capital letters appear in the original document.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Udayamarthandam, Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, India, November 27, 2003.
 Human Rights Watch translation of original Malayalam handwritten text.
 From Mr. Ravi Chandar, Attache (CW), Embassy of India, Riyadh, December 18, 2002, Reference No. RIY/CW/411/107/2002, to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Riyadh.
 Human Rights Watch interviews, Nagarikunnu village, Nedumangad, Thiruvananthapuram district, Kerala, India, November 11, 2003 and November 28, 2003.
 Reuters, Saudi Arabia executes six foreigners, June 16, 2000.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Monjeri, Kerala, India, December 1, 2003.
 The organization published a magazine for the Malayalee community, Pravasi (The Migrant). Malayalees are from Kerala state on the Malabar coast of southwestern India. Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities in Kerala share common Malayalee cultural traditions and Malayalam as their language. Malayalam, most similar to Tamil, is part of the large family of Dravidian languages spoken in south India and northern Sri Lanka.
 Abdel Karim was fluent in Arabic by this time and did not need an interpreter.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Calicut, Kerala, India, December 3, 2003, and December 4, 2003.
 Murali told Human Rights Watch that he was held in Section 2 of al-Hair, which had a mix of Saudi and foreign prisoners, many of them accused of drug offenses or rape. He said that he observed rampant drug use in the prison, and claimed that prison guards were corrupt and procured drugs and cell phones for inmates. He also noted that Saudi prisoners employed foreign inmates without money to clean and cook.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Nagarikunnu, Trivandrum, Kerala, India, November 28, 2003.
 Article 2 states in pertinent part: An arrested person shall not be subjected to any bodily or moral harm. Similarly, he shall not be subjected to any torture or degrading treatment. Article 35 contains a similar provision, noting that any person arrested or detained shall not be subjected to any bodily or moral harm. Article 102 of the code prohibits coercive interrogations, stating in pertinent part: The interrogation shall be conducted in a manner that does not affect the will of the accused in making his statements. The accused shall not be asked to take an oath nor shall he be subjected to any coercive measures.
 Article 15 of the Convention against Torture states: Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.
 Dr. Mohammed R. al-Hussaini, Saudi Arabian Laws Prohibit Torture, National Post, September 11, 2003.
 Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Ottawa. Press Release, From: The Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Canada, Dr. Mohamed R. al-Hussaini, Ref. 502/26, September 22, 2003.
 Article 13.
 Article 14(1) provides: Each State Party shall ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. In the event of the death of the victim as a result of an act of torture, his dependents shall be entitled to compensation.
 Article 10 of the declaration states: 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 64 states in pertinent part: During the investigation, the accused shall have the right to seek the assistance of a representative or an attorney.
 Principle 17(1) of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment states: A detained person shall be entitled to have the assistance of a legal counsel. He shall be informed of his right by the competent authority promptly after arrest and shall be provided with reasonable facilities for exercising it. Principle 17(2) states: If a detained person does not have a legal counsel of his own choice, he shall be entitled to have a legal counsel assigned to him by a judicial or other authority in all cases where the interests of justice so require and without payment by him if he does not have sufficient means to pay.