The U.S. Department of State reports that in general, prison conditions in Saudi Arabia are below international standards, with particularly poor conditions prevalent in women’s prisons. Overcrowding is a problem, with domestic human rights organizations reporting overcrowding so severe as to require prisoners to sleep in shifts. Inmates have died of tuberculosis and suffered from preventable infectious diseases. Some educational and vocational training is provided, although we do not know whether it is provided to those sentenced to death. Terror convicts are held separately from all other convicts to prevent the spread of extremist ideology. Women, men and juveniles are held separately. The conditions for women or foreigners under sentence of death may be significantly better—for instance, one female domestic worker under sentence of death has been held in a converted private home, where she has reportedly been well-treated.
Other individuals held in Saudi prisons may either be tortured or exposed to an environment in which torture is common.
It should be noted that the approach to sentencing for tazir crimes is fundamentally unfair to the defendant. If a defendant stands trial and successfully convinces one of three judges that he should not be executed for a tazir offense, Saudi law requires that two additional judges be appointed to consider the matter along with the original 3-judge panel. A simple majority of the new panel of five judges may sentence the defendant to death. This is somewhat ameliorated by the requirement of unanimity on appeal.
Individuals who appeal their sentences may be submitted to harsher sentences since judges on appeal have extensive discretion to modify the sentence imposed. Amnesty International reports that trial procedures are secretive and that opportunity to guarantee a fair trial by engaging in appellate review is extremely limited. Human Rights Watch reports extensive abuse of pre-trial detainees and judicial participation in forcing illegitimate confessions in some capital cases; communications of the Human Rights Council support such contentions and a number of human rights organizations not controlled by the Saudi government report systematic abuse by authorities, including torture for the purpose of extracting confessions or simply for punishment. Human Rights Watch reports some positive rulings (in 2009) regarding protecting the defendant’s right to representation, which could help reduce the state’s ability to deny defendants’ other rights with impunity—although courts may sanction zealous advocates.
Finally, women have been severely penalized when they are victimized by men—sometimes on the grounds that the woman has stepped out of the limits of the severely restrictive guardianship system, and sometimes because judges simply do not apply Shari’a rules protecting a woman who alleges she has been raped. Women who are raped can—if they make the state authority aware by complaining, or if they become pregnant—be prosecuted for the capital offense of zina, and courts have not complied with principles that would prevent the application of the hadd in cases where rape is alleged.
Saudi Arabia’s Game of Thrones | The New Yorker
The execution of pregnant women is anathema to the rights of the child set forth in the Quran and Sunna, although the woman may be sentenced to death. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has ratified the Revised Arab Charter on Human Rights, which prohibits execution of pregnant women as contrary to the interests of the infant.