Saudi Arabia: Case of Yemeni Citizen Abdulsamed Esmail Mohammed Salem Tortured to Death while in Detention referred to UN

Ambassade Saoudienne en Turquie

On 3 April 2023, Alkarama referred to the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions and the Special Rapporteur on torture the case of Abdulsamed Esmail Mohammed Salem, a Yemeni businessman tortured to death by members of the Saudi security services during his detention at the General Administration for Drug Control centre in Jazan (southwest).

Arrest of Abdulsamed Esmail Mohammed Salem

On September 9, 2021, at around 3:30 p.m., a security squad of 25 armed men affiliated with the counter-narcotics department, led by Lieutenant Hussein Jafari, raided Abdulsamed Esmail Mohammed Salem's restaurant in the Sabya neighborhood.

According to several witnesses, Mr. Salem, who was inside his restaurant, was severely beaten with kicks, fists and rifle butts. He was then forcibly taken to his home where he was also beaten in front of his wife and three children.

Mr. Salem's wife reported that Lieutenant Hussein Jafari, who accused her husband of holding money from drug trafficking, interrogated him about where their money was hidden, threatening to arrest and imprison his wife, two daughters and disabled son if he remained silent.

The officers confiscated a large sum of money and jewelry from his wife and daughter. Mr. Salem's restaurant was closed for an extended period of time and all of his property was seized.

According to the victim's family, officers did not produce a warrant before forcibly taking him to an unknown destination. Eight employees of the restaurant were also arrested before being released a few days later.

Tortured to death while in detention

Two days after his arrest, Mr. Salem was allowed to make a brief phone call to his wife. She said that during the call her husband could barely speak.

The next day, September 12, 2021, Mr. Salem's wife received a phone call from the police who informed her of her husband's death and asked her to pick up the body at Abu Arish Hospital. However, the family refused to collect the body and requested a forensic report to identify the cause of his death.

Salem's wife said he was in good health and had never encountered any problems in the 25 years he had spent in Saudi Arabia. However, she added that her husband had a serious disagreement with his Saudi "kafil" (guarantor) after her husband expressed his desire to emancipate himself and become an independent investor by exiting the "Kafala system" (sponsorship system).

The "kafala system" is a legal framework that governs the relationship between foreign employees and their Saudi guarantors or employers. This system has been severely criticized for the vulnerability to exploitation and oppression of foreign workers due to the superior position of the kafil.

Under international pressure, Saudi Arabia introduced new conditions for expatriate workers in the Kingdom in March 2021 with the aim of improving the system. The new terms of the Saudi kafala system will allow migrant workers to change jobs when their employment contract expires without needing the approval of their former employer.

Recently enacted laws also provide for transitional mechanisms. Migrant workers will thus be able to travel outside the country, under certain conditions, without having to request prior authorization from kafil. Mr. Salem's wife revealed that her husband had filed such a request about a month before his arrest, which led to the disagreement between her husband and his kafil.

Death as a result of torture

In its communication to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alkarama highlighted the responsibility of the agents of the General Administration for Drug Control of Jazan in the death of the victim.

According to the forensic report prepared at the request of the family, of which Alkarama obtained a copy, he was admitted to Abu Arish Hospital on 9 September 2021, the day after his arrest.

Upon arrival, Mr. Salem had "scattered bruises", "accumulation of blood on the upper left limb and left side of the chest and abdomen" and "several rib fractures". According to the medical report, on the evening of September 12, 2021, Mr. Salem, who had breathing difficulties, "died as a result of a pulmonary embolism."

Despite the evidence of a causal link between Mr. Salem's death and the torture he suffered during his detention, the complaints filed by Mr. Salem's family with the Sabya Public Prosecutor's Office and the complaint filed by his lawyer with the Kingdom's Grievance Council remained pending.

Arbitrary arrest 

On the pretext and following an anonymous complaint that he held sums of money derived from drug trafficking, Mr. Salem was arrested without an arrest warrant and without flagrante delicto.

Alkarama pointed out that in accordance with the criminal investigation report dated November 29, 2021 prepared by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Organized and Economic Crime Division, neither the investigation nor the search of Mr. Salem's home revealed any evidence to confirm the anonymous charges against him.

The same report, which describes Mr. Salem as a businessman with no judicial or criminal precedent known in his social environment for his good behaviour, confirms that he was beaten to death while in detention.

Impunity for perpetrators of crimes of torture

In its communication, Alkarama recalled that during the last periodic review of Saudi Arabia, the Committee against Torture expressed deep concern "at the numerous reports brought to its attention that torture and other ill-treatment are routinely practised in the State party's prisons and detention centres".

At that time, the Committee called on the State party to ensure prompt, effective and impartial investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of acts of torture.

However, seven years later, these recommendations remain unheeded and the authorities still refrain from prosecuting those responsible for acts of torture.

Concerned by Saudi Arabia's persistent inertia, Alkarama therefore addressed to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture to submit this situation.

Saudi Arabia is obliged, in accordance with its international obligations resulting from its ratification of the Convention against Torture, to initiate a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into Mr. Salem's death in this situation, to prosecute his torturers and to condemn them according to the gravity of their acts.

Saudi Arabia will soon be examined by the UN Committee against Torture that monitor the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by its States parties.

Alkarama had recently submitted its list of issues to be raised by the Committee's experts in the context of the future examination of the State party, in which it will participate again by submitting a new parallel report.