The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Saudi Arabia

By Vexen Crabtree 2019

#atheism #belgium #canada #gender #humanism #ireland #islam #luxembourg #malaysia #misogyny #new_zealand #palestine #religion_in_saudi_arabia #saudi_arabia #saudi_arabia_gender #USA #women #yemen

Saudi Arabia
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Social and Moral Index111st best
LocationAsia, The Middle East
Life Expectancy76.94yrs (2017)2

Saudi Arabia is amongst the worst places in the world at ensuring human rights and freedom, and it has severe cultural issues when it comes to tolerance and equality. Saudi Arabia does worse than average when it comes to its nominal commitment to Human Rights3 and in speed of uptake of HR treaties4. And finally, it sits amongst the bottom 20 when it comes to its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice5, commentary in Human Rights Watch reports6, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms7, supporting press freedom8, freethought9 (amongst the highest in Asia) and in LGBT equality10 (one of the lowest in Asia). There is no freedom of religion or belief in Saudi Arabia11,12. Saudi Arabia's form of Wahhabi Islam makes the country fundamentally opposed to basic Human Rights and human rights campaigners are persecuted and imprisoned13. The legal and social system systematically objectifies and subjugates women, although from 2017 there have been signs that things may get a little better, in some areas due to actions of King Salman, such as decreeing that from 2018 women can drive cars.13; but years later, any meaningful change beyond that has not transpired14.

1. Saudi Arabia's Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance

#equality #gender_equality #human_rights #morals #politics #prejudice #tolerance

Compared to Asia (2020)15
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank15
1Hong Kong24.3
43Myanmar (Burma)128.5
46Saudi Arabia134.5
50N. Korea146.5
Asia Avg99.9
Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance (2020)15
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank15
177Marshall Islands134.2
179Saudi Arabia134.5
World Avg87.9

The best countries in the world at ensuring human rights, fostering equality and promoting tolerance, are Sweden, Norway and Denmark16. These countries are displaying the best traits that humanity has to offer. The worst countries are The Solomon Islands, Somalia and Tuvalu16.

The data sets used to calculate points for each country are statistics on commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, its nominal commitment to Human Rights, speed of uptake of HR treaties, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, supporting press freedom, eliminating modern slavery, opposing gender inequality, the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), the year from which women could participate in democracy, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice, LGBT equality and freethought. The regions with the best average results per country are Scandinavia, Baltic States and Europe16, whereas the worst are Melanesia, Micronesia and Australasia16.

For more, see:

Amnesty International's 2023-23 summary on human rights in Saudi Arabia stated:

The authorities targeted individuals for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. The Specialized Criminal Court tried and sentenced to lengthy prison terms individuals following grossly unfair trials for their peaceful expression or association, or for forming community organizations. Human rights defenders were harassed in prison and faced arbitrary travel bans following their conditional release from prison. Courts resorted to the death penalty following grossly unfair trials, including in cases of individuals who were children at the time of the alleged crime, and people were executed for a wide range of crimes. Thousands of residents were subjected to forced evictions in the coastal city of Jeddah. Migrant workers continued to be abused and exploited under the sponsorship system and thousands were arbitrarily detained in inhumane conditions, tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and involuntarily returned to their home country as part of a nationwide crackdown on undocumented migrants. The country‚€ôs first Personal Status Law came into effect, codifying male guardianship and discrimination against women.

"The State of the World's Human Rights 2022/23" by Amnesty International (2023)17

[In 2017] Saudi authorities continued their arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents. Dozens of human rights defenders and activists continued to serve long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms. Authorities continued to discriminate against women and religious minorities. [...]

Saudi Arabia applies Sharia (Islamic law) as its national law. [Also, ] judges and prosecutors can convict people on a wide range of offenses under broad, catch-all charges such as "breaking allegiance with the ruler" or "trying to distort the reputation of the kingdom". [...]

As the leader of the nine-nation coalition that began military operations against Houthi-Saleh forces in Yemen on March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. ... Since March 2015, Human Rights Watch has documented 87 apparently unlawful attacks by the coalition, some of which may amount to war crimes, killing nearly 1,000 civilians and hitting homes, markets, hospitals, schools, and mosques. [...] Despite this grave situation, the idea of an investigation received at best lukewarm support from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, all major sellers of arms to Saudi Arabia. None was eager to take a public stand. In that void, the Netherlands stepped in and took the lead, ultimately joined by Canada, Belgium, Ireland, and Luxembourg.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)13

2. Human Rights & Tolerance

2.1. Human Rights Watch Comments


Human Rights Watch Comments
Higher is better6
117=N. Korea-10
117=Congo, DR-10
117=Saudi Arabia-10
Asia Avg-5.0
World Avg-1.9
Saudi Arabia comes worst in the world regarding commentary in Human Rights Watch reports.

Human Rights Watch comments concentrate mostly on negative issues, however, they also make positive comments for those countries that engage in human rights defence around the world, or who make improvements at home. By adding up positive and negative comments (including double-points for negatives that involve large scales and crimes against humanity), the Social and Moral Index turns HRW commentary into quantified values. Some countries may be unfairly penalized because HRW have not examined them, and, some countries "get away" with abuses if they manage to hide it, or if it goes unnoticed - a negative point has been given for those countries in which HRW specifically state that access to investigators has been barred. The points were limited to a minimum of -10 because there are some points at which things are so bad, with abuses affecting so many, it is difficult to be more specific about the depths of the issues.

2.2. Nominal Commitment to HR


Nominal Commitment to HR
Higher is better3
2=Costa Rica23
155Saudi Arabia10
156=Solomon Islands10
156=Vatican City10
Asia Avg12.7
World Avg15.1
Saudi Arabia ranks 155th in the world regarding its nominal commitment to Human Rights.

There are many international agreements on human rights, and, many mechanisms by which countries can be brought to account for their actions. Together, these have been the biggest historical movement in the fight against oppression and inhumanity. Or, putting it another way: these are rejected mostly by those who wish to oppress inhumanely. None of them are perfect and many people object to various components and wordings, but, no-one has come up with, and enforced, better methods of controlling the occasional desires that states and peoples have of causing angst for other states and peoples in a violent, unjust or inhumane way. Points are awarded for the number of human rights agreements ratified by the country, plus the acceptance of the petition mechanisms for disputes. The maximum possible score in 2009 was 24.

2.3. HR Treaties Lag

#human_rights #international_law #micronesia #politics #small_islands

HR Treaties Lag
Lower is better4
Avg Yrs/Treaty4
164San Marino13.63
165Saudi Arabia13.73
166Timor-Leste (E. Timor)13.73
Asia Avg10.97
World Avg10.02
Saudi Arabia comes 165th in the world regarding speed of uptake of HR treaties.

Human Rights (HR) Treaties Lag is a count of how long it took each country to sign each of 11 key HR treaties. From the date of the first signatory of each treaty, all other countries have one point added to their score for each day they delayed in signing. Results are presented as average time in years to sign each one. The lower a country's score, the more enthusiastically it has taken on international Human Rights Treaties - which are, of course, minimal standards of good governance. The slowest are the countries of Micronesia, Melanesia, Australasia and Polynesia all lagged by over 12 years per treaty. The best regions are The Americas, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

For more, see:

2.4. Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom

#freedom #politics

Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom
Lower is better7
1Hong Kong1
3New Zealand3
144=Saudi Arabia144
Asia Avg94.6
World Avg79.7
Saudi Arabia is positioned 16th-worst in the world in terms of supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms.

The Human Freedom Index published by the Fraser Institute is...

... a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas: Rule of Law, Security and Safety, Movement, Religion, Association, Assembly, and Civil Society, Expression, Relationships, Size of Government, Legal System and Property Rights, Access to Sound Money, Freedom to Trade Internationally, Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business. [...]

The highest levels of freedom are in Western Europe, Northern Europe, and North America (Canada and the United States. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. [...]

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significant higher per capita income ($37,147) [compared with] the least-free quartile [at] $8,700). The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy.

"The Human Freedom Index" by The Fraser Institute (2016)18

2.5. Press Freedom

#democracy #freedom #Freedom_of_Speech #Good_Governance #mass_media #politics #UK

Press Freedom
Lower is better8
161Sri Lanka5659
162Saudi Arabia5688
165Equatorial Guinea6720
Asia Avg4378
World Avg3249
Saudi Arabia ranks 17th-worst in the world with regard to supporting press freedom.

The freedom to investigate, publish information, and have access to others' opinion is a fundamental part of today's information-driven world, and is linked with Freedom of Speech and Good Governance. Scores on the Press Freedom Index are calculated according to indicators including pluralism - the degree to which opinions are represented in the media, media independence of authorities, self-censorship, legislation, transparency and the infrastructure that supports news and information, and, the level of violence against journalists which includes lengths of imprisonments. The index "does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted". The rankings are used as one of the datasets of the Social and Moral Development Index19

It must be noted that press freedom is not an indicator of press quality and the press itself can be abusive; the UK suffers in particular from a popular brand of nasty reporting that infuses several of its newspapers who are particularly prone to running destructive and often untrue campaigns against victims. The Press Freedom Index notes that "the index should in no way be taken as an indicator of the quality of the media in the countries concerned".

2.6. Slavery

#burundi #eritrea #france #human_rights #indonesia #slavery

Lower is better
% Victims20
29Saudi Arabia0.19
30=S. Korea0.19
Asia Avg0.79
World Avg0.65
Saudi Arabia comes 29th in the world regarding eliminating modern slavery.

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory21. Private households and national endeavours have frequently been augmented with the use of slaves. The Egyptian and Roman empires both thrived on them for both purposes. Aside from labourers they are often abused sexually by their owners and their owners' friends22. The era of colonialism and the beginnings of globalisation changed nothing: the imprisonment and forced movements of labour continued to destroy many lives except that new justifications were invented based on Christian doctrine and the effort to convert non-Christians. By 1786 over 12 million slaves had been extracted from Africa and sent to colonial labour camps, with a truly atrocious condition of life23. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves24.

The abolition of the slave trade was a long and slow process. Until a relatively modern time, even philosophers, religious leaders and those concerned with ethics justified, or ignored, the problem of slavery25. The first abolitionists were always the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. After that, it was the economic costs of maintain slave colonies that led the British to reject and then oppose the slave trade globally. Finally, the enlightenment-era thinkers of France encouraged moral and ethical thinking including the declaration of the inherent value of human life and human dignity26. A long-overdue wave of compassionate and conscientious movements swept across the West, eliminating public support for slavery, until the industries and churches that supported it had no choice but to back down.

'Modern slavery' includes forced labour (often of the under-age), debt bondage (especially generational), sexual slavery, chattel slavery and other forms of abuse, some of which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, but often target those fleeing from warzones and the vulnerable.27. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi28, Eritrea28, Indonesia29) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery30.

For more, see:

3. Gender Equality

Saudi Arabia is on the way towards ending gender inequality but women are still in an unfavourable position much of the time. Women have far fewer political rights than men, and are prevented from voting and standing for election.

Women in Saudi Arabia are systematically and thoroughly dehumanized as objects, belonging to their husbands. But from 2017 there have been signs that things may get a little better, in some areas. King Salman decreed that women will be allowed to drive from mid-2018, ending Saudi Arabia inhumane and nonsensical ban on women drivers13.

Women in Saudi Arabia face formal and informal barriers when attempting to make decisions or take action without the presence or consent of a male relative. [...] In April [2017], King Salman issued an order stipulating that government agencies cannot deny women access to government services simply because they do not have a male guardian´s consent unless existing regulations require it. ... Under the order, all government agencies were required to provide a list by mid-July of procedures that require male guardian approval, suggesting that authorities might review these rules and regulations and even eliminate some. [...]

Saudi Arabia continues to discriminate against women and girls by denying them the same opportunities to exercise and play sports as men and boys. In a positive step forward, however, Saudi Arabia´s Education Ministry announced in July that Saudi girls´ schools will offer a physical education program beginning in the fall 2017 school term “in accordance with Islamic law standards” and wouldscale up “according to the possibilities available in each school,” including sports halls and competent women instructors. No public girls´ schools currently have sports facilities.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)13


3.1. Gender Inequality

#gender #gender_equality #human_rights #misogyny #women

Gender Inequality
Lower is better
50Saudi Arabia0.26
Asia Avg0.36
World Avg0.36
Saudi Arabia ranks 50th in the world in terms of opposing gender inequality.

The UN Human Development Reports include statistics on gender equality which take into account things like maternal mortality, access to political power (seats in parliament) and differences between male and female education rates. Gender inequality is not a necessary part of early human development. Although a separation of roles is almost universal due to different strengths between the genders, this does not have to mean that women are subdued, and, such patriarchalism is not universal in ancient history. Those cultures and peoples who shed, or never developed, the idea that mankind ought to dominate womankind, are better cultures and peoples than those who, even today, cling violently to those mores.

For more, see:

3.2. Year Women Can Vote

#christianity #gender_equality #human_rights #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote
Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
188Saudi Arabia0
189Vatican City0
Asia Avg1907
World Avg1930
Saudi Arabia ranks last in the world with regard to the year from which women could participate in democracy.

Women now have equal rights in the vast majority of countries across the world. Although academic literature oftens talks of when a country "grants women the right to vote", this enforces a backwards way of thinking. Women always had the right to vote, however, they were frequently denied that right. The opposition to women's ability to vote in equality with man was most consistently and powerfully opposed by the Catholic Church, other Christian organisations, Islamic authorities and some other religious and secular traditionalists.

For more, see:

4. Prejudice

4.1. Anti-Semite Opinions

#antisemitism #christianity #germany #indonesia #israel #jordan #judaism #laos #morocco #netherlands #pakistan #philippines #religion #religious_violence #saudi_arabia #spain #sweden #turkey #UK #vietnam

Anti-Semite Opinions
Lower is better
87Saudi Arabia74
Asia Avg48.2
World Avg36.8
Saudi Arabia comes 15th-worst in the world when it comes to its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice.

Anti-Semitism is the world given to irrational racism against Jews. It is not the same as anti-Judaism (involving arguments against the religion) nor the same as anti-Zionism (arguments against Israel). In history, influential Christian theologians concocted the arguments against Jews that led, very early on, to widespread Christian action against Jews32,33,34,35. As Christianity rose to power in the West and presided over the Dark Ages, there were widespread violent outbursts against Jews of the most persistent and horrible kind. The Crusades were frequently aimed at them and the feared Spanish Inquisition paid Jews particular attention. The horror of the holocaust instigated by German Nazis in the 1940s was followed (finally) by the era of European human rights and a movement against racism in general.

The places that are the least anti-Semitical are a few countries of south-east Asia (Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam) and some of the secular liberal democracies of Europe (Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK). The worst countries for antisemitism are Islamic states of the Middle East36, which are undergoing their own Dark Age. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey see the most oppressive and violent actions towards Jews37,38. Jews in Muslim countries face a host of restrictions and "ceaseless humiliation and regular pogroms"39. In 2004 the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia reported on violent anti-Jew crimes in the EU and found that that largest group of perpetrators were young Muslim males40.

For more, see:

Neil J. Kressel in "Bad Faith: The Danger of Religious Extremism" (2007)41 describes Saudi Arabia as one of the countries that is most intolerant of Jews:

Saudi children in grades 1 through 10 are told that Jews and Christians are the enemies of Islam, that Jews are a wicked nation characterized by bribery, slyness, deception, and aggressiveness, and that prohibitions against terror do not apply to cases that fall under the categories of jihad and martyrdom. Students are further taught that "the Jews' disappearance is ... desired" and that "Palestine in its entirety should be liberated by force and purified of its Zionist filth".

"Bad Faith: The Danger of Religious Extremism" by Neil J. Kressel (2007)37

4.2. LGBT Equality

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #ICCPR #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

LGBT Equality
Higher is better
191Solomon Islands-44
194Saudi Arabia-72
Asia Avg-02.1
World Avg12.6
Saudi Arabia ranks 3rd-worst in the world with regard to LGBT equality.

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence42. LGBT tolerance and equal rights have been fought for country-by-country across the world, often against tightly entrenched cultural and religious opposition. Adult consensual sexual activity is a Human Right, protected by privacy laws43. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries42. The Social & Moral LGBT Equality Index was created to compare countries and regions, granting points to each country for a variety of factors including how long gay sex has been criminalized and the extent of LGBT legal rights. Graded negative points are given for criminality of homosexuality, unequal ages of consent, legal punishments and for not signing international accords on LGBT tolerance. The signs in many developed countries are positive, and things are gradually improving. Europe is by far the least prejudiced region (Scandinavia in particular being exemplary). The Middle East and then Africa are the least morally developed, where cultural bias goes hand-in-hand with state intolerance, all too often including physical violence.

For more, see:

4.3. Freedom of Thought

#europe #freedom_of_belief #freethought #human_rights #netherlands #religion #religious_tolerance #secularism #the_enlightenment

Freedom of Thought
Lower is better
194=Saudi Arabia5.0
194=N. Korea5.0
Asia Avg3.7
World Avg3.0
Saudi Arabia ranks last in the world in terms of freethought.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Belief are upheld in Article 18 the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights44. It affirms that it is a basic human right that all people are free to change their beliefs and religion as they wish45. No countries voted against this (although eight abstained). This right was first recognized clearly in the policies of religious toleration of the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe in the post-enlightenment era46 of the 19th century. In democratic countries, freedom of belief and religion is now taken for granted47. In 2016 a study found that over 180 countries in the world had come to guarantee freedom of religion and belief48. The best countries at doing so are Taiwan, Belgium and The Netherlands9,49 and the worst: Afghanistan, N. Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia9,50.

Long-term studies have shown that religious violence and persecution both decrease in cultures where religious freedom is guaranteed51. Despite this, there still are many who are strongly against freedom of belief45, including entire cultures and many individual communities of religious believers. Their alternative is that you are not free to believe what you want and they often state that you cannot change religion without being punished (often including the death penalty): this is bemoaned as one of the most dangerous elements of religion52 and "the denial of religious freedoms is inevitably intertwined with the denial of other freedoms"53 and the solution is, everywhere, to allow religious freedom and the freedom of belief.

For more, see:

Saudi Arabia's form of Wahhabi Islam (a kind of Sunni Islam) makes the country fundamentally opposed to Human Rights. Sociologists Grim & Finke place Saudi Arabia into the worst categories of religious freedom and persecution, along with just 13 other countries. In 1948 Saudi Arabia was one of just 8 countries that refused to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, disagreeing that people had the right to choose their religion54. Non-religious folk such as Humanists are in an impossible situation, and prosecutions can be made for 'promoting atheism' if they don't conceal themselves14; other religions and Muslim minorities such as Twelver Shia and Ismailis are also persecuted13.

Severe restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of belief stem simultaneously from top-down pressure from government and institutionalized religion, and from bottom-up grassroots movements that often go even further than the government in harassing those who do not believe the right things (2011)55.

In 2008 The Economist56 ran two articles examining some of the ways that King Abdullah engaged in some activities that were slightly more tolerant of other faiths: for example he housed a "World Conference on Dialogue"57. There's not much sign that this is resulting in less intolerance in the Kingdom overall, however.

There is little sign of change on the domestic scene. Saudi Arabia bans churches (and all other non-Muslim houses of worship) on its soil and refuses visas to Israelis. Discrimination against Ismaili and Shia Muslims remains rife, although it has eased under the present king.

The Economist (2008)57

The International Humanist and Ethical Union produced a report in 2012 entitled "Freedom of Thought" (2012)11, in which they document bias and prejudice at the national level that is based on religion, belief and/or lack of belief. Their entry for Saudi Arabia states:

There is no freedom of religion or belief in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There is no separation between state and religion, and the deep connection between the royal family and the religious establishment results in significant pressure on all citizens to adhere to the official government interpretation of Islam. The country's laws rely on an interpretation of Sharia law, which treats blasphemy - or, in other words, any deviation from Sunni Islam - as apostasy, an offense usually met with a death sentence. The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the religious police) are especially intolerant of minority religions and disbelief.

Cases of Discrimination

In February 2012, journalist Hamza Kashgari, 23, was accused of blasphemy for posting messages on Twitter in which he imagined himself in conversation with the Prophet Muhammad. Soon after, Saudi King Abdullah ordered that Kashgari be arrested "for crossing red lines and denigrating religious beliefs in God and His Prophet." Attempting to flee to New Zealand, Kashgari was arrested when changing planes in Malaysia and sent back to Saudi Arabia, where he faces charges that could result in the death penalty.

"Freedom of Thought" by IHEU (2012)11

Commentators on the deteriorating state of human rights and social stability in Pakistan have stated that one cause is the large numbers of migrant workers who come through Saudi Arabia and then are responsible for spreading overly strict Islam to Pakistan58.