Saudi detainees complain of abuse

Prisoners in Saudi Arabian jails have sent a barrage of complaints to the country's first human rights commission.

    Abuse against women has also been prominent in the complaints

    Saudi Arabia set up the National Human Rights Association (NHRA) in March 2004 as part of government efforts to improve the kingdom's human rights record.

    Western diplomats say there was also foreign pressure for the creation of the commission. 

    "We have received about 2000 valid complaints so far - most of those have been processed and resolved, either through letters to officials or some sort of action," Lubna al-Ansari, an executive director of the NHRA, told Aljazeera on Thursday.

    Prisoner complaints

    Of the 1300 cases taken on by the NHRA in Riyadh, about 33% involved complaints from prisoners or their relatives, but this did not mean that was the main human rights issue in the country, she said.

    Al-Ansari had no details on the types of complaints received from prisoners. In a 2005 report on its website, Amnesty International says brutality and torture is common in Saudi detention centres and prisons.

    "We have received about 2000 valid complaints so far - most of those have been processed and resolved"

    Lubna al-Ansari,
    NHRA executive director

    Saudi Arabia says the group was set up with a mandate to protect the basic rights of people of all races and nationalities in the country, in line with international agreements and Islamic law.

    It has offices in the capital Riyadh and in the Red Sea port city of Jedda, the second largest in the kingdom. NHRA also plans to open other offices soon.

    Work issues

    "The society is still building credibility at the moment. I think it will be getting more cases when it is more widely known. For this reason, the ones we have at the moment may not reflect the kind of problems there are," al-Ansari said.

    The Saudis have come under 
    strong US pressure to reform

    Of the remaining Riyadh cases, 20% involved people complaining they were not being paid appropriately or promoted in the workplace, she said. Another 17% involved other labour issues.

    In its Jedda office, the NHRA had taken on about 800 complaints, where the biggest concern was family problems, she said. These comprised about 10% of the cases in Riyadh.

    Domestic abuse - mainly involving women - is receiving growing public attention in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

    High-profile case

    Saudi television producer Rania al-Baz went to the media after getting a savage beating from her husband last year, in which she suffered 13 facial fractures. She was granted an unusual divorce by a Saudi court.

    Al-Ansari said NHRA was planning to set up a hotline for domestic abuse, in line with trends in other countries.

    Anthropologist Jawhara al-Angari, who heads the NHRA family committee in Jedda, said the organisation planned a study of domestic abuse in Saudi Arabia and intended to make suggestions on appropriate punishment to the country's courts.

    "It is against our religion to abuse a wife or child - but in my mind, the punishment here is not enough," she said.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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