Human Rights Watch recommends that Saudi Arabia initiate reforms in four areas of its criminal justice system to strengthen due process and fair trial rights in compliance with international human rights law and standards.

First, the Saudi cabinet should pass, amend and rescind laws and decrees as necessary to bring Saudi Arabia into compliance with international human rights law, including by enacting a penal code that allows detainees to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, and prohibits jailing persons solely for indebtedness.

Second, the Ministry of Interior and the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution should make changes in its practices when arresting and interrogating a person, to ensure greater transparency and prevent ill-treatment of detainees.

Third, the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Judicial Council should strengthen the rights of defendants to ensure they can get a fair trial, including by providing defense lawyers free of charge to indigent defendants and allowing defendants to effectively challenge the evidence against them.

Fourth, the Saudi government should remove the prosecutorial offices from the control of the Ministry of Interior, and remove the power to arrest, detain, and release suspects from the prosecution.

Changes to Law

  • Accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, its additional protocols, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

  • Draft and adopt a Penal Code that states clearly and accessibly what acts constitute criminal offenses.

    o The Penal Code should not criminalize the exercise of rights protected under international human rights law;

    o The Penal Code should unambiguously criminalize use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. It should also provide punishment for those persons who, in their capacity as government officials, commit such offenses.

  • Prohibit the detention or imprisonment of persons solely for their inability to fulfill a contractual obligation or to pay a court-imposed fine or court-mandated damage award.

  • Vest the power to remand in custody in a judge or an independent judicial officer, excluding prosecutors or law enforcement officers.

  • Provide detainees, including foreigners detained by the Passports Department and all persons in mabahith prisons, with the legal right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in an independent court.

  • Rescind Ministry of Interior Decree No. 1245, of October 1, 2002, specifying major crimes that require mandatory pretrial detention, and amend Article 112 of the Law on Criminal Procedure accordingly. Allow only judges to determine pretrial detention on a case-by-case basis.

  • Rescind Royal Decree 7560/Ba/Mim, of July 11, 2005, allowing for the imprisonment of security suspects for up to one year without trial, and all other laws, regulations, orders and decrees that contradict the Law of Criminal Procedure and violate the prohibition against arbitrary arrest.

  • Allow witness testimony without discrimination on the basis of sex, age, religion, race, or nationality.

  • Rights in Detention


  • Promptly, and prior to interrogation, allow the detainee to communicate with legal counsel of his or her choice, and inform him or her of this right at police stations, CPVPV stations, mabahith offices, and other custodial settings of law enforcement agencies.

  • Videotape, date, and serialize all interrogations, and make those tapes available to the detainee and his or her counsel.

  • Before interrogation, inform the defendant of the right not to incriminate him or herself.

  • Do not require a detainee to pledge to abstain from certain acts or perform certain acts as a condition of release, unless such a pledge is part of a formal, judicially-sanctioned agreement and does not in any way inhibit the exercise of the detainee’s human rights.

  • Transparency

  • Provide detainees with a list of lawyers operating in the area, and allow detainees to engage a lawyer of their choice.

  • Provide detainees and their legal counsel with access to their court and prosecution files while in detention.

  • Give defendants or their legal counsel copies of all written material pertaining to their case, with translation services if necessary.

  • Provide detainees with access to Saudi statutory laws and prevalent interpretations of Sharia criminal law, including the Ministry of Justice’s new compendium of legal opinions.


    Trial Protections

  • The lawyers’ association within the Saudi Chambers of Commerce should form a committee to act as a resource for discussion of Saudi criminal law, training of lawyers in criminal law, and outreach to the public.

  • Institute a public defender program, linked to the lawyers’ association, for detainees who cannot afford to hire a lawyer, and a quick referral system to competent criminal defense lawyers with adequate resources to mount an effective defense.

  • Allow the defendant and his or her counsel adequate time to study the charges and evidence against him or her before proceeding with a hearing of the evidence and pleadings.

  • Ensure that witnesses for the prosecution and defense actually appear in court so defendants may cross-examine them.

  • Issue guidelines for introducing evidence, including guidelines for assessing the credibility of witnesses.

  • Issue sentencing guidelines, including on the meaning of guilt proven beyond reasonable doubt for discretionary sentences.      

  • Institutional Changes

  • Remove the Bureau for Investigation and Public Prosecution from the administrative control of the Ministry of Interior and other law enforcement agencies.

  • Task judges or other independent judicial officers, excluding prosecutors, with a review of the decision to charge a suspect and to remand him or her in custody.