Saudi officials vigorously defend the country’s criminal justice system when facing criticism by international media outlets, United Nations human rights bodies, and human rights organisations. On August 4, 2017, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice spokesperson said, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s courts are independent courts that work—in accordance with the Basic Law of Governance—to apply Islamic law rulings and follow procedural laws that govern the course of trials and provide fair trial guarantees for all defendants.”
The practice of Saudi justice, however, which largely follows interpretations of uncodified Islamic law, does not measure up to such declarations, and over a decade of reforms have not appreciably strengthened the safeguards against arbitrary detention or ill-treatment, or enhanced the ability of Saudi and non-Saudi defendants to obtain fair trials.
The defects in the criminal justice system are especially acute for the twelve million foreigners living in Saudi Arabia, over one-third of the country’s total population, who face substantial challenges obtaining legal assistance and navigating Saudi court procedures. At 1.6 million people, Pakistanis make up the second-largest migrant community in Saudi Arabia, most of whom travel to the country as foreign migrant workers.
This report is based on interviews with twelve Pakistani citizens detained and put on trial in Saudi Arabia in recent years, as well as seven family members of nine other defendants. All interviews took place in Pakistan with the exception of two telephone interviews with Pakistani inmates in Saudi prisons. Researchers interviewed these individuals between November 2015 and September 2016. Interviews were conducted in Urdu and Punjabi. The criminal cases involved 21 total defendants in 19 separate cases that ranged from minor crimes such as petty theft and document forgery to serious offences, including murder and drug smuggling, which are often capital offences in Saudi Arabia.
Report by the Human Rights Watch