Saudi Arabia is holding more than 3,000 people in secret detention and has used torture to extract confessions in its anti-terrorism crackdown since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Amnesty International said in a report yesterday.
The report criticized the international community for turning a blind eye to the kingdom’s methods in its crackdown. Saudi Arabia has carried out a heavy wave of arrests against al-Qaeda members in past years after the militant group carried out a string of attacks against expatriate residential compounds, oil facilities and government buildings.
“These unjust anti-terrorism measures have made an already dire human rights situation worse,” said Malcolm Smart, head of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program, in a press release.
Asked about the report, Saudi Interior Ministry official Abdulrahman Alhadlaq said: “These are claims that have to be proven.”
“Our policies on human rights are very clear and the orders given are for prisoners to be treated with respect and according to international human rights principles,” Alhadlaq said. “If anything happened, it would be an individual case and if it is brought to anybody’s attention it will be dealt with.”
The report came two weeks after the Saudi government said it had convicted 330 al-Qaeda militants in the kingdom’s first known terrorism trials for suspected members of the terror network.
One militant was sentenced to death, and the others were given jail terms, fines and travel bans in trials that were held in the utmost secrecy. Authorities said the defendants were accused of belonging to the “deviant group,” a euphemism for al-Qaeda, as well as a range of other terrorism-related charges.
Amnesty said more than 3,100 people are being held “in virtual secrecy” and others have been killed in uncertain circumstances.
Amnesty criticized the Saudis for carrying out “secret and summary trials” and for reportedly torturing detainees to extract confessions. They said torture methods include “severe beatings with sticks, punching, and suspension from the ceiling, use of electric shocks and sleep deprivation.”
“The abuses take place behind a wall of secrecy,” Smart said. “Most [detainees] are held incommunicado for years without trial, and are denied access to lawyers and the courts to challenge the legality of their detention.”
Amnesty said it sought Saudi comment on its report but did not receive “any substantive response.”
The US and other countries strongly pushed Saudi Arabia to crack down on terrorism after it was discovered that 15 of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US came from the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is also the homeland of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but Saudi authorities revoked his passport in the mid-1990s.
Amnesty criticized the international community for failing to apply the same pressure on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights practices for fear of angering a key Mideast ally that is the largest exporter of oil in the world.
“Rather than hold the Saudi Arabian government accountable for its dire human rights record, all too often other governments have preferred to look the other way and not question what goes on in the secrecy of Saudi Arabia’s interrogation centers and prisons,” the report said.