Saudi Arabia: Widespread riots in Al-Hayer prison and violent intervention by the security forces

Alkarama has been continuously receiving reports for more than a week regarding riots by detainees in al-Hayer prison in Riyadh against their poor prison conditions and the arbitrary nature of their detention. After news of the riot, came calls for help as the authorities cracked down on the riot and blocked all news from the families of detainees.

A wave of protests started on Friday 13 July after a prison officer violently beat and spat on a political prisoner in ward number 3 of the new al-Hayer prison. The other prisoners broke out in protest at the demeaning treatment of their co-detainee, but also against their detention conditions and the regular torture and mistreatment many are subjected to. They controlled the entire ward, and the protests began to spread to other wards.

The security forces then intervened violently according to the testimony of a prisoner's mother whom Alkarama spoke to: "I am the mother of prisoner (X)* who is in the al-Hayer prison in Riyadh in ward number 3, and who has been imprisoned for (X) years without trial or being charged. On Friday 13 July I received a telephone call from my son (X) at 10:30 PM and when I picked up the phone, he surprised me by screaming HELP US (X) WE ARE DYING. I asked him what was happening, and he said that the security forces entered the prison carrying knives and weapons... then the line was cut and I couldn't get any more details from him".

The families of the prisoners gathered on Sunday near al-Hayer prison after they received news about the protests inside the prison and the violence of the security forces in attempting to control the situation. Some were also responding to appeals by human rights activists on Twitter. The security forces surrounded the prison to prevent the families from approaching the building, and then arrested many of them after midnight yesterday. The authorities, since the beginning of these events, imposed a news blackout on the riots.

A spokesman in the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) announced that, as part of its duty to supervise Saudi prisons, including the prisons of the General Security Directorate, it has been engaged in dealing with limited riots initiated by some of the detainees in al-Hayer prison, and which have now ended thankfully with no injuries. The BIP also announced the damage caused by these riots, and that the initiators of the riots would be investigated. Yet, other news speak of many injuries and possibly deaths among the prisoners.

The incident of the guard attacking the prisoner was only the straw that broke the camel's back, and was symptomatic of the worsening human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. The prisoners rioted after they lost patience with their arbitrary arrests, their prolonged detentions and uncertain situations, and the mistreatment and torture which they are subjected to in prison. Local human right activists in Saudi Arabia confirm that thousands of prisoners are subjected to arbitrary detention, many being detained for years without any legal proceedings or clear charges.

Alkarama has repeatedly intervened with the Saudi authorities regarding the tragic state that human rights in the Kingdom and the large number of arbitrary arrests that affect men and women, young and old, and even children under the age of 10, which the prisons can no longer absorb.

Alkarama has received since the start of the year more than 150 cases of arbitrary arrest of a political nature, which can be added to the Kingdom's rapidly worsening human rights record. Most of the victims spent more than ten years in prison without any legal proceedings or clear charges that justify their detentions. This is in addition to the cases that Alkarama reported to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. This Working Group issued opinions earlier this year that condemned the practices of the Saudi authorities for violating the basic principles of human rights.

*Name and details removed for the security of the detainees and their families

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