In the course of its duty of monitoring different human rights cases in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in follow up to its previous reports on freedoms in Saudi Arabia which received much interest from human rights and media organizations, Adala Center for Human Rights now issues a report on children political prisoners, a subject of utmost importance.
Monitoring cases like these is crucial to those with an interest in human rights, as well as to the concerned official bodies and the general public, in order to keep informed of the status of these cases and of the children’s circumstances, well-being and any harmful effects their detention has on them.
Our concern for this subject springs from the recent increase in the number of arrests, particularly since peaceful gatherings began in the governorate of Qatif in the Eastern Province, where there have been numerous transgressions by the security forces against children.
During our investigations, it became apparent that some of the detained children were subject to violent arrests, in some cases almost like kidnapping, while others were hit by police cars, arrested at police checkpoints and fired at. It is also apparent that security forces did not always maintain legal arrest procedures.
Regarding detention facilities, the report shows that most children are detained in a Youth Detention Centre falling under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Social Affairs. There have been attempts by the General Directorate of Investigation, however, to transfer detainees to its prisons to complete its investigations as well as attempts by individual General Directorate of Investigation officers to carry out investigations with children in the Youth Detention Centre, an act which contravenes the need to provide investigators qualified in dealing with children. The report goes on to show that some detention centres fall short of the international standards for youth detention facilities.
Regarding arrest procedures, it became apparent that many children were arrested on unjustified charges such as participating in protests, having pictures of religious figures on their mobile phones and expressing their support for peaceful gatherings on the internet.
The report also provides a sample of the conditions of children accompanying their imprisoned mothers. These children suffer from a complete lack of the required standard of care. A number of children have been harmed by being deprived of their education throughout the period of detention.
The report concludes by making recommendations aimed at protecting children from the dangerous effects of arrest and prolonged detention in an illegal manner. The report also demands the immediate release of all detained children, the provision of legal guarantees against abuses by investigators, compliance with international treaties and local laws regarding juvenile cases, the provision of suitable conditions for children accompanying their imprisoned mothers and the facilitation of communication between detained children and their relatives.
Children Behind Bars
Adala Center for Human Rights wishes to express its alarm at the Saudi authorities’ security campaign involving the arrest of children in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia for participating in peaceful gatherings and exercising their freedom of expression. From the time protests began in February 2011 G. until August 2012 G., Saudi authorities have arbitrarily arrested sixty one (61) children, twenty four (24) of whom are still being held in the Youth Detention Centre in the city of Dammam. Reasons for arrest include the practise of the freedom to attend peaceful gatherings, participating in social networks and having pictures of protests or religious figures on mobile phones. With respect to adults in the Eastern Province, as of the end of August 2012 G., the number of detainees has reached six hundred and sixty two (662) persons, five hundred and twenty four (524) of whom have been released. The majority of them spent four months in jail. Ten of them are currently being tried at the specialised criminal court for national security in Riyadh and the criminal court in Qatif (three persons are in jail and being tried at the specialised criminal court, while the other seven have been released and are being tried at the Qatif criminal court). One hundred and thirty eight (138) people are still being held in detention. Most of them are at the General Directorate of Investigation’s prisons in Dammam.
It is worth mentioning that some children have been held for longer than six months without being tried, a breach of Article 114 of the Criminal Procedures Law. Although families of the children have asked for their release as the allegations against them do not warrant arrests, let alone prolonged detention without temporary release, the authorities have refused. This refusal comes in spite of the stipulation by Article 4 of the Guidelines for Detaining Juveniles in Youth Detention Centres, issued under Council of Ministers Resolution No. 169, dated 24/6/2008 G., that “the investigating party must strive to solve all juvenile cases in general, and those under twelve years of age in particular, and to conclude all cases without transferring juveniles to a Youth Detention Centre, in accordance with the Council of Ministers Resolution No. 25, dated 26/1/1421 H., as amended.”
Article 5 of the Guidelines, concerning alternative penalties, requires that “the prosecuting authority in juvenile cases – especially those under twelve years of age – must ask the judge to consider penalties other than prison.” This is in line with the United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (the Riyadh Guidelines), passed in 14/12/1990 G., Paragraph 46 of which states that “The institutionalisation of young persons should be a measure of last resort and for the minimum necessary period, and the best interests of the young person should be of paramount importance” and Article 37, Paragraph (b) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides that “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
Although laws guaranteeing and protecting freedoms exist, the application of those laws, which is far more important, is still inadequate. On the night of Wednesday, the 16th of October, 2012 G., security forces fired on two children riding motorbikes in Riyadh Street in Qatif. The children, Jafar Marar (17 years old) and Saleh Mahdi Marar (13 years old), were wounded and subsequently hospitalised in Qatif Central Hospital before being transferred to the Youth Detention Centre in Dammam.
Furthermore, on the morning of Wednesday, the 15th of February, 2012 G., a Yukon (a large family car) hit a motorbike being ridden by Ali Mohammed Baqer Alnimr (16 years old) in a street in the village of Al Awamia near Saudi Post’s office. He was later taken to Qatif Central Hospital to treat his wounds and bruises before being transferred to Qatif Police Station and subsequently to the Youth Detention Centre in Dammam.
In May 2011 G., Mujtaba Ali Alsafwani, a child, was arrested. After over a week of searching for him, his family learned that he was being held in the Youth Detention Centre in Dammam.
It is very worrying that most of these children were Where exposed to extreme violence in the course of their arrests. This constitutes a violation of the Saudi Criminal Procedures Law as these children did not pose a danger to anyone, were not fleeing justice or otherwise carrying out any crime giving security officers any justification for firing a gun in the course of the arrest. Furthermore, this is a clear violation of the Internal Security Forces Law, issued under Royal Decree No. 30, dated 6/4/1965 G., which in Articles five and six sets out rules for using weapons and force. We note that using a vehicle to hit a child’s motorbike in order to arrest him exposes the child to serious physical and mental dangers as well as being a gross violation of his human rights.
Some reports state that a number of children have been arrested for burning car tires on the night of Friday, the 15th of June, 2012 G. in the town of Al Umran in Al Ahsa’a. Moreover, on Sunday, the 17th of June, 2012 G., four children were arrested for burning car tires on a public road. Three of these are brothers from the family of Ali Al Budewi, namely Hassan (14 years old), Hussein (14 years old) and Shahid (16 years old), with the fourth being Mahdi Ali Hashim Al Ali (16 years old).
International human rights law has in several international treaties guaranteed a child’s right to peaceful expression of opinion and right to be heard. Of these treaties is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989 G.), which Saudi Arabia signed and ratified on 26/1/1996 G., thereby becoming legally bound by it. We note the legal principle granting international and regional treaties supremacy over local law in case of any conflict between the two.
This was emphasised by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969 G.), Article 27 of which states that “A party may not invoke provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.” Saudi Arabia signed this treaty on 14/4/2003 G. and it came into force on 14/5/2003 G. Furthermore, this accords with the Saudi Arabian Basic Law, which states in Article 81 that the application of the provisions of the Basic Law “shall not violate any commitments of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made pursuant to treaties and agreements with other nations and international agencies and organisations.” This requires that Saudi Arabian authorities honour the state’s international commitments, including those relating to protection , respect , fulfilment of human rights obligations and locally providing for effective legal remedies with respect to human rights violations.
Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” Article 13 further states that “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.” Article 14 declares that states must “respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” while Article 15 clearly provides that states are bound to “recognise the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly.” In addition, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, stressed that “the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly should not be subject to prior authorisation from the authorities” and noted that “the criminalisation of people participating in peaceful assemblies for the sole reason that they did not seek the approval of the authorities to hold such assemblies contradicts international human rights law.”
Moreover, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam, issued in 2005 G. and ratified by Saudi Arabia by Royal Decree M/54, dated 21/9/2006 G., states in Article 10, entitled Freedom of Assembly, that “Every child shall have the right to form and join any peaceful, civilian gathering in accordance with legal and statutory provisions in his/her society and in a way that is compatible with his/her age and does not affect his/her behaviour, health or heritage.”
Imprisonment of Children with their Mothers
Imprisoning children with mothers detained pursuant to criminal cases poses great dangers to those children, as women’s prisons lack the standards required for children’s prisons, which in turn deprives those children of their rights to an education, to adequate physical and mental care and to entertainment. This prevents children from having a social upbringing in a safe environment, making them vulnerable to mental harm.
An example of this is the arrest of Arwa Al Baghdadi on the 26th of December, 2010 G., until her release on the 30th of June, 2012 G. At the time of her arrest, her baby was younger than two weeks old. On the 13th of August, 2012 G., she posted on her twitter account “When I entered prison it had not even been two weeks since I gave birth. My milk dried up from the beatings, harassment, anger and separation I experienced in the initial days” , “I began suffering from intense physical pains, as I was arrested during my post-partum period and the cold was intense, the air-conditioning in this section being central and there not being any blankets for me or my baby” , and “There was nothing in the room other than a desk, a floor mat and a bathroom. I started drinking and feeding my son water from the tap in the bathroom because they only brought artificial milk for my son and no water.”
The case of Hanan Abdulrahman Samkari followed the same trend. She was held in the General Directorate of Investigation’s prison in Jeddah on the 15th of December, 2010 G. and her three children, Abdulrahman Mohammed Farouqi Aljaza’iri (4 years old), Jana (8 years old) and Nomoor (13 years old), were imprisoned along with her, until her release on the 30th of June, 2012 G.
Her fourth child, Alyazan Mohammed Farouqi Aljaza’iri (16 years old), arrested on Wednesday, the 14th of December, 2011 G., is still being held in solitary confinement in the General Directorate of Investigation’s prison in Jeddah without charge and without trial. This is a flagrant violation of local and international laws, which require that children be held in a special prison – the Youth Detention Centre – as the General Directorate of Investigation’s prisons lack the minimum standards required in juvenile detention facilities.
Exposing the child Alyazan to solitary confinement is therefore considered to be a form of torture, according to the Committee Against Torture’s General Comment No. 20 on Article 7 of the Convention Against Torture, ratified by Saudi Arabia in 23/9/1997 G., “The solitary confinement of a detained or imprisoned person for a long period may fall under the acts prohibited by Article 7.” We note that his family is permitted to visit him only once a month.
In the previous two scenarios, we do not ask that a mother be separated from her children. However, in order to help children re-integrate into society later on, detention facilities having suitable conditions for children’s physical and mental growth and emotional and educational needs must be provided. This is especially true in cases like the previous two in which the parent is also imprisoned.
Some of the children released after being held for reasons relating to the exercise of the freedom of peaceful gathering and freedom of expression have been banned from travelling, according to sources in their families. This must be reassessed in light of local and international laws guaranteeing freedom of movement, particularly as these children do not pose any security threats.
Statistics on the number of detainees
Adala Center for Human Rights urges the Saudi Authorities to:
1. Immediately release unconditionally all children arrested by reason of peaceful gatherings and freedom of expression;
2. Provide just compensation to these children for harm caused by the period of detention;
3. Bring those security officers who fired on any children to account;
4. Guarantee and protect the rights of children by obligating security forces and the judiciary to comply with international and regional treaties, local laws, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules), the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (the Havana Rules) and the United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (the Riyadh Guidelines).
5. Emphasise to the detention, investigation and justice authorities that, when dealing with a child, they must give the child’s best interests paramount importance.
6. Provide areas in women’s prisons suitable for children being held with their imprisoned mothers, whereby the children’s health, psychological and educational needs, as well as pregnant women’s health care needs, are met.
7. Lift any travel bans on released children.
List of Detained Children till August 2012
The “commitment of respect” means that the state is prohibited from interference, whereby governments must not do any act which undermines a person’s enjoyment of his rights.
The “commitment of fulfilment” requires that states take positive steps to guarantee the exercise of human rights.
This is achieved by enabling people to appeal to a national authority (judicial, administrative, legislative or otherwise) in case of a breach of any right. Every person alleging that his rights have not been respected must be able to seek effective redress from a local specialised body having the power to enforce its decisions.
As issued in a statement released by a group of experts at the United Nations on the 23rd of August, 2012 G. See: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42730#.UI7l3G_A-mk (English), or http://www.un.org/arabic/news/fullstorynews.asp?newsID=17116 (Arabic).