There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including religious prisoners and detainees.
The government generally enforced legal and policy restrictions on religious freedom. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the year.
On December 13, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassir, a 60-year-old Saudi woman, was beheaded in Al-Jouf, reportedly after her conviction on criminal charges of practicing “witchcraft and sorcery.” On September 20, Abdul Hamid Bin Hussain Bin Moustafa al-Fakki, a Sudanese national, was beheaded in Medina, reportedly after his conviction on criminal charges of practicing “witchcraft and sorcery.”
A few non-Muslim groups in different parts of the country were detained and harassed for worshipping privately. For example, on December 15, police arrested 35 Ethiopian Christians during a Christian prayer service. Authorities charged the Ethiopians with “intermingling between members of the opposite sex outside of family.” The prisoners claimed that they were arrested for practicing Christianity and expected to be deported. The prisoners remained in detention as of year’s end.
In mid-November, Mansor Almaribe, an Australian Shia of Iraqi descent, was arrested and convicted in the country of blasphemy and for “insulting the companions of the Prophet.” He was sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in prison. His sentence was reduced to 75 lashes and no jail time. Almaribe was allowed to return to Australia after he received his lashes.
On September 3, 2009, Hadi al-Mutif, a Sulaimaniya Ismaili Shia who had been on death row for 16 years for an offhand remark “insulting the Prophet Mohammad,” received an additional five-year sentence for criticizing the government’s justice system and human rights record on a tape smuggled out of prison and broadcast on Alhurra television in 2007. Al-Mutif remained in custody through year's end.
In January, authorities charged two Indian Christians, Vasantha Sekhar Vara and Nese Yohan, with proselytizing. They were released from detention on July 12, and both men returned to India.
Harassment of Shia during religious worship and public gatherings continued. Authorities arrested approximately 350 Shia in the Eastern Province over the course of the year, allegedly for participating in demonstrations that began in February and continued sporadically throughout the year. By year’s end, approximately 60 Shia remained in detention.
The government’s stated policy is to permit private worship for all, including non-Muslims, and address government officials’ violation of this policy as they occur; however, the CPVPV sometimes did not respect this policy. Individuals whose ability to worship privately had been infringed could address their grievances through the MOI, the government’s official HRC, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR, a quasi-autonomous NGO), and when appropriate, the ministry of foreign affairs. Online criticism against the CPVPV increased during the year.
The government continued to prohibit public, non-Muslim religious activities across the country and further restricted non-Sunni activities in predominantly Sunni areas. On November 2, three Shias--Sheikh Saeed al Bahhar, Mohammad Hassan al Hubail, and Hussein al Dubaisy--were arrested and detained for eight days. Although they were never formally charged with a crime, members of the community suspect that they were held for participation in nightly celebrations honoring religious events during the Islamic months of Shaban and Ramadan. The three men had previously been arrested in October 2010 and detained for two weeks for allegedly establishing a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Many of the reported abuses related to public, non-Muslim religious activities and non-Sunni activities were difficult to corroborate because of witnesses’ or victims’ fears that disclosing such information might cause harm to themselves or to others. Moreover, information regarding government practices was generally incomplete because judicial proceedings usually were closed to the public, despite provisions in the criminal procedure law that require court proceedings to be open. Many non-Muslims worshiped in secret because of continuing fear of harassment and intimidation by police or the CPVPV, as well as police detention or deportation.
Similar to recent years, there were reports that government officials confiscated religious materials during raids of Christian gatherings, but no reports that customs officials confiscated religious materials from travelers, whether Muslims or non-Muslims.
Police detained and imprisoned an unknown number of persons on charges of sorcery, black magic, or witchcraft; there were media reports throughout the year of such arrests. Anti-sorcery departments exist within the CPVPV branches across the country, with the responsibility to investigate and report incidents of “sorcery” to local police. From media reports it appeared that some accused sorcerers were charlatans or quacks but others, mainly Africans, appeared to be engaged in traditional spiritual or healing practices.
The government continued to combat extremist ideology by scrutinizing religious clerics and teachers closely and dismissing those found to be promoting intolerant and extreme views. The MOIA supervised clerics through regular inspections, surprise inspections, complaints received from worshipers, and investigations of accusations in the press.
Sunni clerics, who received government stipends, occasionally used anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Shia language in their sermons. It was common for preachers in mosques, including the mosques of Mecca and Medina, to end Friday sermons with a prayer for the well-being of Muslims and for the humiliation of polytheism and polytheists.
Most Shia expressed general concerns about discrimination in religious practice, education, employment, political representation, the judiciary, and the media.
The government generally limited public religious practice to activities that conform to the official interpretation of Islam. Practices that diverged from the official interpretation, such as celebrating Maulid Al-Nabi (the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad) and visits to the tombs of renowned Muslims, were forbidden. Enforcement was more relaxed in some communities than in others. For example, authorities allowed Shia in the Eastern Province city of Qatif greater freedom in their religious practices, including the public commemoration of Ashura. This event was held with minimal government interference. In other areas with large Shia populations, such as al-Ahsa and Dammam, authorities restricted Shia religious activities, including public observances of Ashura, public marches, loudspeaker broadcasts of clerics’ lectures from Shia community centers, and, in some instances, gatherings within those centers.
Shia described restrictions on their visits to Mecca and Medina as interference by Riyadh-based authorities in private Muslim worship. In addition, government religious authorities continued the practice of destroying ancient Islamic historical sites.
Shia mosques in mixed religious neighborhoods reportedly were required to recite the Sunni call to prayer, which is distinct from the Shia call, at prayer times. Moreover, although Shia combine two of the five daily Sunni prayers, Shia businessmen often were forced to close their shops during all five prayer times, in accordance with the country’s official Sunni practices.
The government restricted the ability of religious leaders and activists to express views perceived as or deemed critical of the religious establishment. Consequently some Shia faced obstacles in constructing their mosques. For example, provincial officials in Al-Ahsa have blocked construction of some new Shia mosques and community lecture halls as well as withdrawn some permits for existing mosques and lecture halls. Shia in other parts of the country were not allowed to build Shia-specific mosques. However, the government did approve construction of some new Shia mosques in Qatif and Al-Ahsa--sometimes after lengthy delays due to the numerous approvals required--but did not approve construction of Shia mosques in Dammam, home to many Shia.
The government did not officially recognize several centers of Shia religious instruction located in the Eastern Province, provide financial support for them, recognize certificates of educational attainment for their graduates, or provide employment for their graduates, all of which it does for Sunni religious training institutions. Unlike in previous years, none of these centers were subject to forced closures.
The government refused to approve construction or registration of Shia community centers, and Shia were thus forced to build such facilities in private homes. These community centers sometimes did not meet safety codes, and the lack of legal recognition made their long-term financing and continuity considerably more difficult.
During the year, there was significant public discussion, including in the media, questioning the official version of religious traditions and criticizing their enforcement. However, discussion of sensitive religious issues such as sectarian differences remained limited, and criticism of Islam was forbidden. Individuals who publicly criticized the official interpretation of Islam risked harassment, intimidation, and detention, and foreigners who did so risked deportation. Journalists and activists who wrote critically about the religious leadership or who questioned theological dogma risked detention, travel bans, and government shutdowns of their publications.
The government continued to exclude Shia perspectives from the state’s extensive religious media and broadcast programming. The government sporadically imposed bans on the importation and sale of Shia books and audiovisual products. The government also blocked access to some Web sites with religious content it considered offensive or sensitive, including the Al-Rasid Web site, in line with a broader official policy of censoring objectionable content, including political discourse and illicit materials. In addition, terms like “rejectionists,” which are insulting to Shia, were commonly found in public discourse.
In higher education the government discriminated against Shia in the selection process for students, professors, and administrators at public universities. For example, Shia constituted an estimated 2 percent of professors at a leading university in al-Ahsa, an area with a population that is at least 50 percent Shiite.
At the primary and secondary levels of education in al-Ahsa, there continued to be severe underrepresentation of Shia among school principals (approximately 1 percent), and no Shia principals in al-Ahsa schools for females.
In Qatif, where Shia constitute approximately 90 percent of the population, many male principals and even some male religious teachers in primary schools were Shia; however, there were no Shia principals or religious teachers in Qatif’s public female primary schools. There are a small number of private schools for girls in Qatif.
A new curriculum was implemented throughout the country in 2010 for the first, fourth, and seventh grades. All religious references in math, science, and English textbooks for these grades were removed. The new religious sciences and Arabic textbooks for those grades, however, continued to contain intolerant language. Similar curriculum changes reportedly were implemented during the year for second, fifth, and eighth grades, although this is unconfirmed. Reform programs for the other grades were being developed at year’s end, but most school children used textbooks that retained language intolerant of other religious traditions, especially Jewish, Christian, and Shia beliefs, and included commands to hate infidels for their kufr (unbelief) and kill apostates. For example, textbooks stated that apostates from Islam should be killed if they do not repent within three days of being warned and that treachery is a permanent characteristic of non-Muslims, especially Jews. The monotheism textbook for twelfth grade boys stated that those who worship tombs--a likely allusion to include Shia and Sufi Muslims’ practice of visiting tombs of venerated imams--thereby commit apostasy by action. The text also stated that once a finding of apostasy has been confirmed, legal consequences apply, including that if the apostate refuses to repent, he must be killed.
Shia faced significant employment discrimination in the public sector. A very small number of Shia occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies. Many Shia believed that openly identifying themselves as Shia would negatively affect career advancement.
Qatif community leaders described allegedly prejudicial zoning laws that prevent construction of buildings over a certain height in various Shiite neighborhoods. The leaders stated the laws prevented investment and development in these areas and aimed to limit the density of the Shia population in any given area.
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that MOI officials and/or CPVPV members pressured sponsors and employers not to renew the residency cards of non-Muslims they had sponsored for employment if it was discovered or suspected that those individuals had led, sponsored, or participated in private non-Muslim worship services. Similarly, there were no reports that CPVPV members pressured employers and sponsors to reach verbal agreements with non-Muslim employees that they would not participate in private non-Muslim worship services.
Members of the Shia minority were also subjected to political discrimination. For example, although Shia constituted approximately 10 to 15 percent of the citizen population and approximately one-third to one-half of the Eastern Province population, they were underrepresented in senior government positions. Shia were significantly underrepresented in national security-related positions, including the ministry of defense and aviation, the national guard, and the MOI. Shia were better represented in the ranks of traffic police, municipalities, and public schools in predominantly Shiite areas. There were no Shia ministers, deputy ministers, governors, deputy governors, or ministry branch directors in the Eastern Province, and only three of the 59 government-appointed municipal council members were Shia. However, the Shia were represented proportionally among the elected members of the municipal councils, as they held 10 of 11 seats on the Qatif and al-Ahsa councils. An elected Shia headed the Qatif municipal council. However, the Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council)--the 150-member, all-male, all-appointed national body that advises the king --only has five Shia members.
Judicial discrimination against Shia was evident during the year. Shia leaders argued that the one court of appeals on which Shia judges sit has no real authority and only verifies documents.
In addition to these discriminatory practices, Nakhawala leaders stated that the Shia in their community faced even more problems, particularly in comparison to the Twelvers in the Eastern Province. They stated that anti-Shia sermons and statements were heard regularly in their neighborhoods. Unlike the case with Shia from the Eastern Province, there were no prominent Nakhawala Shia in government bodies such as the Consultative Council or the HRC. The Nakhawala also asserted that their surname (“al-Nakhly,” which roughly translates as “farmers” and identifies their minority status and sect) facilitated systematic discrimination against them in employment and education.
The Sulaimaniya Ismaili community also continued to face additional obstacles in Najran Province. Community leaders asserted that the government discriminated against them by prohibiting their religious books; allowing Sunni religious leaders to declare them unbelievers; denying them government employment; and relocating them from the southwest to other parts of the country or encouraging them to emigrate.
The government-run King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue (KACND) was staffed by 2,000 certified trainers. Over the past six years, the KACND has trained over 800,000 men and women in over 20,000 training programs in 42 cities on “the culture and importance of open dialogue and communication skills.” The center trained 352 teachers on “Educational Dialogue in the Classroom.” In rural areas, the “Caravan of Dialogue” program trained 848 young people, distributed 1,500 informational packets, and worked with local imams to include the concepts of dialogue in their Friday sermons. Under their “Dialogue Café” program, the center trained 247 university students on the principles of dialogue.