In November and December 2006 Human Rights Watch conducted its first fact-finding mission to Saudi Arabia and spoke to over 90 current and former defendants in the criminal justice system, and to more than 25 lawyers, current and former judges, Ministry of Interior officials, prosecutors, and prison officials. Human Rights Watch collected testimony from persons in Hofuf, Khobar, Dammam, Qatif, Tarut, Ras Tannura, Jubail, Hafr al-Batin, Sakaka, Hail, Medina, Jeddah, Taif, Mekka, Baha, Abha, Najran, Kharj, Riyadh, Buraida, Unaiza, and Bikiriya.
With the exception of three group interviews with detainees in al-Hair Correctional Facility and one interview with intellectuals in Riyadh, we conducted all interviews privately and individually. During the group interviews with prisoners in al-Hair Correctional Facility, we asked about their individual criminal cases, cases of abuse and cases of death in custody known to them, and their individual experiences during interrogation and trial. We cross-checked allegations across these groups and with former detainees accounts for consistency.
Where we conducted telephone interviews with defendants in other non-mabahith correctional facilities, we conducted more than one telephone interview to verify the facts presented.
Prior to Human Rights Watchs visit to Saudi Arabia, human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, whom Human Rights Watch contacted of its own accord, as well as opponents of the Saudi regime living abroad, whom we did not contact, published contact information for the delegation members, urging Saudis to contact us. We received hundreds of calls with complaints about a wide array of matters. We met with some of these callers in person after having established that there was a genuine human rights concern related to the administration of justice, and we also conducted telephone interviews with a small number of callers, especially where other longstanding contacts of Human Rights Watch could back up their claims.
Nine persons in the Human Rights Watch delegation conducted interviews in English and Arabic in al-Hair Correctional Facility. One researcher collected all other accounts by speaking to victims and their families, lawyers, and officials, in Arabic. We did not prepare interviewees for the type of questions we asked, and we put similar questions framed within international human rights standards for a fair trial (point of arrest, charge, access to legal counsel, interrogation and detention conditions, access to evidence, trial procedures).
In addition to investigating known cases, a large number of individuals in Saudi Arabia complain directly to Human Rights Watch. The cases presented here include some of those cases, where we were able to conduct detailed follow up about fair trial violations. Due to space constraints, the cases presented in this report represent only an illustrative selection of the number of cases investigated.
Human Rights Watch cannot determine the guilt or innocence of the persons we spoke to. Our concern was to probe the degree to which Saudi law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges respect fair trial protections guaranteed under international and Saudi law. The detainees, with rare exceptions, had little if any knowledge of the kingdoms laws or human rights law, or the legal means to defend themselves. In addition to detainees testimonies and accounts from their families, Human Rights Watch consulted court verdicts and official correspondence where available. To protect the persons featured in this report, some of whom are in detention, we have substituted pseudonyms for their real names.
To our regret, the Minister of Justice and other officials declined to meet with Human Rights Watch representatives. Judges in two courts refused Human Rights Watch access to trials. Ministry of Interior officials did not fulfill their promise to allow Human Rights Watch to conduct a return visit to the al-Hair Correctional Facility, or other prisons and detention facilities to which we requested access.
In February 2008, Human Rights Watch sent the full report in English and Arabic to the Saudi Human Rights Commission and from March 7-15 conducted discussions with Saudi officials, including officials from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior about its findings. A summary of the discussions is included in the Appendix.