Conditions in Primam Prison, Jeddah

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Conditions in Primam Prison, Jeddah


By: United Nations Economic and Social Council

Date: January 16, 1996

Source: United Nations Economic and Social Council: Commission on Human Rights (52nd Session). "Conditions in Primam Prison, Jeddah." January 16, 1996.

About the Author: The United Nations (UN) formed during World War II in an effort to prevent future hostilities between individual nations and conglomerates of nations. In addition to acting as a world peacekeeping force, the UN has also taken upon the task of patrolling and maintaining human rights.


Saudi Arabia, an active participant in the international community, has continual allegations of human rights violations. These violations primarily reside in the nature, execution, and condition of the Saudi Arabian legal system. International human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have released several reports attesting to the conditions of Saudi Arabian prisons and to the maltreatment of detainees and prisoners.

Instances of prisoner neglect, abuse, and torture encompass a large net of human rights violations. Reports attest that individuals charged with petty theft have received seventy or more lashes, several years imprisonment, and, in some cases, death. Cases are heard in closed proceedings, lawyers and legal council are frequently denied to defendants, and a clear understanding of the legal process is not made. Along with charges of extreme punishment, former prisoners and detainees have remarked that many prisoners do not know the status of their case. Not knowing the status of their case relates to prisoners being held for days, weeks, and years before seeing a judge, and then when they do go to court they are not always informed on the outcome of the proceedings. For instance, if a prisoner disagrees with his or her sentence he can reject the punishment and verdict. Once a rejection has been placed, the case will go to appeal. But, the appeals process can take even longer than the sentence stipulated, and it can take longer than it took to get before the first judge. Hence, prisoners frequently opt to take a sentence for a crime they did not commit (they reject the guilty verdict but accept the sentence) so that they can get out of jail sooner. Donato Lana, a Filipino national who worked in Saudi Arabia, faced such an ordeal after his October 11, 1995 arrest. Two policemen came to his home and arrested him on charges of preaching Christianity. After being charged at the police station in Riyadh, the police transferred him to Malz Prison. Lama, who admitted to being a Christian but not a preacher, later signed a statement in Arabic claiming that he was a preacher. When he signed the statement, he believed it related to his release, and his signature came after several months of living in shackles and being beaten daily. When he took his sentence, but denied the guilty verdict, he had about four months left to serve. It was for one and a half years imprisonment and seventy lashes. His captors administered the lashes in one day, and he was not examined by a doctor after they were given.

Lana's case at the Malz Prison is just one example of the injustices in the Saudi Arabian legal system. Other instances of abuse are seen when prisoners see a judge and the accusers or witnesses are not in court. Without advice from a lawyer, or outside party, the prisoner often leaves court with the impression that their case is still in trial. Unfortunately, reports have shown that these prisoners learned that their case received a guilty verdict long after the fact.

The Priman Prison in Jeddah has proved to be the most noted case for prisoner maltreatment in Saudi Arabia. The use of beatings, shackles, and electrical torture has forced the international community to examine the conditions of Saudi Arabian prisons. The question still remains on how to enforce human rights statutes and mandates on the Saudi Arabian government.


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In January 1996, Saudi Arabia signed the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and in August 1997 it joined the consortium of nations to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. These steps toward joining the international community to eradicate torture and inhumane punishment show steps in the Saudi Arabian government to eradicate its legacy of human rights violations. Unfortunately, the Saudi Arabian government has maintained a policy of trying criminals in closed courts, arresting individuals without warrants, and detaining people without disclosing the nature and purpose of the investigation.

The abuses of the Saudi Arabian legal system do not just pertain to men. Women and other disadvantaged groups are often targets of police brutality and court neglect. Saudi Arabian law prohibits women from driving cars, they must wear headscarves, and their clothing must cover their entire body. Women who are out alone, deemed to be wearing inappropriate clothing, or accused of immoral behavior face severe consequences in the legal system. Numerous cases show Saudi Arabian and foreign women have been arrested for charges like those mentioned here. Furthermore, the treatment of women prisoners and detainees is no better than for males. Cases show women being locked in cars for hours in extreme heat, being beaten, and being tried for murder without knowing their charges. As with the male cases, these victims often do not know the evidence or full charges against them, and when sentencing occurs they are often without knowledge of its severity or length.

As the international community continues to seek mandates and plans to eradicate human injustices, countries that continue to violate human rights come under more scrutiny. The United Nations has declared Saudi Arabia to be in serious violations of human rights, but no concrete action has been taken against its government. Countries like England and the United States have also publicly voiced concerns about Saudi Arabia's treatment of its citizens and non-nationals, but these governments have failed to politically reprimand Saudi Arabia for its actions. Reasons for the lack of international action against human rights violations vary from country to country. With Saudi Arabia, political analysts and skeptics have remarked that England and the United States fear offending Saudi Arabia because it supplies cheap crude oil. This fear might be the reason why UN embargos have not been enforced against Saudi Arabia, but other issues pertain to the matter.

In 1993, the United States Supreme Court declared that Scott Nelson could not sue the country of Saudi Arabia for torture, injury, and harm he encountered while jailed there. In Saudi Arabia v Nelson, Nelson sought financial retribution for the harm he and his wife encountered when he was jailed and arrested in Saudi Arabia. He worked for a state owned hospital there, as a safety engineer, and he claimed that after reporting safety violations he was arrested and tortured. The Court declared that the harm against Nelson did not fall within the bounds of commercial activity, which would have allowed Nelson to sue for damages. The court's 1993 decision to rule in the favor of Saudi Arabia mirrors the actions of the United Nations in failing to hold Saudi Arabia responsible to the world court.



Brysk, Allison. Globalization and Human Rights. Los Angles: University of California Press, 2002.

Steiner, Henry and Philip Alston. International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Web sites

Amnesty International. "Behind Closed Doors: Unfair Trials in Saudi Arabia." November 25, 1997. 〈〉 (accessed May 8, 2006).

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Conditions in Primam Prison, Jeddah

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