Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s rise to power set Saudi Arabia on a new course branded by the authorities as a reform initiative, but which has in fact been marked by a harsh crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful activism. Hundreds of public figures, human rights activists, scholars, businessmen and members of the royal family have been arrested in a bid to centralise power.
Saudi Arabia’s judicial system is based on the Sharia as interpreted by the Council of Senior Scholars. Due to the absence of a formal Constitution and a Criminal Code, legal uncertainty prevails, and large discretionary powers are bestowed upon non-independent judges, which often use these powers to prosecute peaceful dissidents under the pretext of national security and terrorism.
Arbitrary detention continues to be practised systematically, with individuals often spending months or even years in incommunicado detention, at times being tortured and then sentenced following court proceedings that severely violate fair trial guarantees. At the same time, the country maintains one of the highest rates of the death penalty worldwide.
Externally, Saudi Arabia continues its military campaign in Yemen, a conflict that has been marked by grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and has plunged Yemen in to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.