Saudia Arabia Overview

Despite certain political and social reforms made since the turn of the century, the authorities in Saudi Arabia continue their decades-long clampdown on dissent, human rights activism and independent reporting through the media. While some informal associational interactions are tolerated, publicly active civil society organisations are almost non-existent while human rights organisations face brutal repression, including the targeted harassment, imprisonment, torture and public flogging of their leaders. Women’s rights to associate, peacefully assemble and express themselves are even further violated through an overt, state-driven policy of discrimination based on gender. A recently-passed terrorism law dramatically increases the authorities’ powers to stamp out dissent, through wide-ranging clauses which criminalise virtually all dissent while a new civil society law is not thought likely to reduce government control of the sector. People in Saudi Arabia have no legal protection for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and can even be flogged for taking part in a public demonstration. Excessive force is often used to disperse the few protests that do take place. Free expression is heavily curtailed and although the Internet has provided an avenue for discussion for millions of Saudis in recent years, online content is censored and severe penalties are imposed for criticism of the government which appears on social media. Human rights defenders face travel bans, arbitrary arrests, lengthy prison sentences, flogging and torture as well as reprisals when interacting with the UN Human Rights Council.