Saudi justice system 'blind to abuse of foreign workers'

By Elizabeth Davies
15 July 2004

Migrant workers who move to Saudi Arabia in the hope
of a better life and a higher income can instead
expect to be faced with torture, unfair trials and
forced confessions if they are accused of crimes,
according to a scathing Human Rights Watch report
released yesterday.

The report, a damning investigation into the
corruption and failure of the Saudi justice system to
provide redress, also reveals the abysmal and
exploitative labour conditions experienced by many
foreign workers, who, at 8.8 million, make up one
third of the kingdom's population. "Case after case
demonstrates that the Saudis are turning a blind eye
to systematic abuses against foreign workers," said
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights
Watch in the region. "If the Saudi government is
serious about reform, this would be a good place to

The report, which had to be documented overseas
because the Saudi government ignored numerous requests
to carry out field research, vehemently criticises the
hereditary, unelected rulers who, it claims, choose
secrecy over transparency at the expense of justice.
The "appalling flaws in the system" are made clear in
countless cases of torture, confessions signed under
pressure, unfair trials and verdicts without the
prisoner's knowledge, the report says.

A man from the Philippines, Joselito Alejo, was
imprisoned for five years before his case, for which
there was no substantiated evidence and which was
eventually abandoned, came to trial. He suffered three
weeks of torture and two months in solitary
confinement. He recalls how police officials punched
him every time he asked to go to the bathroom and
extracted a forced confession by threatening to kill

Another of the most worrying cases is the beheading of
K P Ghafoor, an Indian man who moved to Saudi Arabia
in 1988 and was imprisoned after unknowingly taking
part in drug trafficking. Ghafoor remained apparently
unaware that he had been sentenced to death until he
was beheaded in 2000. His family was only notified
seven months later in a letter beginning: "We are
sorry to inform you that your son was executed."

Human Rights Watch recommends that, until the legal
system can rid itself of torture and coerced
confessions as routine practices, the death penalty
should be suspended. Also highlighted are the
"slavery-like conditions" for many foreign workers,
along with the gender discrimination and routine
sexual abuse suffered by the majority of women in the

Stories such as those of Melda, a Filipina raped twice
by her employer in 2003, whose complaints were ignored
by the police, or Edna, who worked as a domestic help
for five months without being paid and finally left
$1,308 (704) out of pocket, are common. 


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