Saudi Arabia: New Government Figures Show 1028 Foreigners Detained on Terrorism Charges


During the week of 18 July 2019, regional news sources reported that as many as 1028 foreigners are currently being detained for terrorism charges in Saudi Arabia. This represents around 20 percent of all those being held on terrorism charges in the kingdom.

In its 2019 World Report, Human Rights Watch noted that Saudi Arabia has continually used counterterrorism legislation to crack down on political expression and dissent. In 2017, a new counterterrorism law was introduced which included long criminal penalties for acts that have no relation to terrorism. One of these is a charge of 5 to 10 years in prison for portraying the king or crown prince “in a manner that brings religion or justice into disrepute.”

In addition to these harsh and wanton laws, Saudi Arabia has been found to have deep and systematic problems in its legal system, including procedures that violate international fair trial standards, arbitrary arrests, and frequent use of the death penalty. Indeed, Saudi Arabia executed 104 people in 2018, 44 of them being foreign nationals; in April 2019, alone the Saudi government executed 37 people who had previously been convicted for terrorism related charges.

One of these 37 executed individuals, Munir Al Adam, had been arrested in 2012 and charged with attending a pro-democracy protest. He was subjected to torture, waited three years in detention for his trial to begin, was prevented from accessing legal counsel, and was unable to appeal his case. His case is representative of the ways in which the Saudi Arabian legal system has been found to be in gross violation of human rights.

The Saudi National Security Council (SNSC) reported that among these 1028 foreigners currently being held by Saudi authorities, 358 are Yemeni, 259 are Syrian, 75 are Egyptian, and 73 are Pakistani. An Arabic-language source cited the office as saying that 40 nationalities are represented among the prisoners.

In light of these newly-released figures, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) again expresses its profound concern about the use of counterterrorism legislation in Saudi Arabia to crack down on political opposition. ECDHR calls on Saudi Arabia to reform these laws; to end the practices of torture, arbitrary arrest, and unfair trails; to place a moratorium on the use of the death penalty; and furthermore to release prisoners being detained for crimes that amount to nothing more than fundamental freedom of expression, association, or assembly.