There were reports of imprisonment and detention. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of killings by authorities on account of religious beliefs or practices. The government generally enforced legal and policy restrictions on religious freedom. Some activists held for extended periods without charge were released, but at least one who was arrested and charged in 2012 with apostasy and blasphemy, which carry potential death penalties, remained in detention. Individuals were detained and charged with “witchcraft” and “sorcery,” which carry potential death penalties. The government reportedly broke up private non-Muslim religious meetings held by foreign residents and deported foreigners for worshipping privately.
Shia continued to face discrimination, and public Shia celebrations were restricted, even in some areas with large Shia populations. Shia also faced significant obstacles to building social and religious centers and were underrepresented in government and educational positions. A government school textbook reform project was delayed, and intolerant language remained in both edited and unedited textbooks. Ismailis reported improved conditions, but two Ahmadi men arrested in 2012 for refusing to renounce their faith remained in detention.
Raef Badawi remained in prison at year’s end after being arrested in June 2012 on charges of apostasy, insulting Islam and Saudi religious leaders, and violating cyber crime laws by setting up the Free Saudi Liberals Web site in 2008. The website was intended as a platform for debating religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia. In January an appeals court remanded the charge of apostasy to a lower court. On July 29, the lower court sentenced Badawi to seven years imprisonment and 600 lashes, although the apostasy charge did not figure into the sentence. Badawi appealed the sentence. In early December an appeals court remanded the case to a criminal court. On December 25, the criminal court judge remanded the case further to a general court with the recommendation that Badawi be tried before the highest court on a renewed charge of apostasy.
A court in Ta’if in March reportedly sentenced a man to death for practicing “witchcraft.” Police investigations and CPVPV reports alleged the man had participated in more than 40 abortions and a number of “witchcraft activities.”
On May 11, a court sentenced a Lebanese man to six years in prison and 300 lashes for allegedly facilitating the conversion of a Saudi female to Christianity and helping her escape to Sweden. A Saudi man accused of being an accomplice received a sentence of two years in prison and 200 lashes. The men have been in detention since their arrest in July 2012.
On February 6, an appeals court upheld a Qatif criminal court sentence of 8 lashes against a woman who in 2012 reportedly sent a text message containing a Shia cleric’s name and phone number to a man in Medina by mistake. The man complained to authorities that the woman was trying to convert him.
Hamza Kashgari, a blogger and activist arrested in early 2012 for posting social media messages deemed blasphemous, was released from detention in October after 20 months imprisonment. Following public calls for severe punishment in 2012 in the wake of his messages, Kashgari had fled the country; he was detained in Malaysia at the request of the Saudi government and forcibly repatriated. After returning to Saudi Arabia, Kashgari publicly “repented” before a court.
On June 5, novelist and political commentator Turki al-Hamad was reportedly released from detention. He was arrested in December 2012, allegedly for social media messages calling for a reformation of Islam and criticizing Islamists.
Some non-Muslims in different parts of the country were reportedly detained, harassed, and ultimately deported for worshipping privately. In February the CPVPV reportedly arrested more than 50 Ethiopian Christians in a private residence in Dammam pursuant to allegations by government authorities of violating labor and passport laws. International media outlets reported three leaders of the group were charged with seeking to convert Muslims to Christianity. At least 43 of those arrested were deported; the others remained in detention at year’s end.
On July 19, local police reportedly attempted to access an al-Khobar residential compound to raid a private Christian religious gathering attended primarily by Westerners. Although compound management denied the police entry, Eastern Province Governor Saud bin Naif was reportedly alerted to the situation by the police and requested the group discontinue its meetings.
According to the CPVPV, the agency handled 314,122 infractions in 2012, of which it claimed 92 percent were settled informally when the perpetrators signed pledges to refrain from wrongful behavior. The CPVPV referred the other 8 percent to the police and or the legal system.
In November CPVPV officers in Riyadh detained two individuals for offering free hugs on public streets on charges of “indulging in exotic practices and offending public order.” The two individuals were reportedly released after being forced to sign a pledge agreeing not to offer hugs again.
In April CPVPV members harassed several Western diplomats at the annual Saudi Jenadriyah festival, complaining about a female diplomat’s uncovered hair and another female’s accompaniment by a man who was not her husband. In June CPVPV members harassed Western diplomats in a Jeddah restaurant, demanding a female diplomat accompany them to a police station for dining with a man who was not her husband. During the same week religious police conducted an unprecedented raid on a private upscale Jeddah beach.
CPVPV leadership and law enforcement authorities made sporadic efforts to hold officers accountable for unlawful actions beyond the scope of their authority. Five CPVPV officers were found guilty of second degree murder following a September 23 car chase during which two men pursued by the officers died when their car careened off a bridge. In the wake of the incident, CPVPV head Abd al-Latif Al al-Sheikh reportedly barred the organization’s field officers from pursuing suspects. He also issued directives to investigate allegations that three CPVPV officers in Riyadh had assaulted a Saudi national for praying inside his shop instead of in a mosque.
In April security personnel reportedly removed a CPVPV administrator from the Jenadriyah festival after he attempted to storm the stage to stop a children’s folk dance performance on the grounds it contained music. The incident drew support among the public for the CPVPV administrator and criticism of the security guards.
Pressure on Shia clerics continued. Awamiyah-based Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr was arrested in July 2012 after a series of sermons in which he demanded greater rights for Shia and defended four men accused of celebrating the death of then-Crown Prince Naif, whom they viewed as promoting anti-Shia discrimination. On March 25 prosecutors in a court hearing charged him with “sowing discord” and “undermining national unity” and called for the death penalty . He remained incarcerated at the end of the year. Al-Nimr had been arrested twice before, in 2004 and 2006, although no charges had been filed An arrest warrant was issued for al-Nimr in 2009 after he called for Eastern Province secession if Shia did not receive equal rights. Large protests erupted in Awamiyah after the warrant was issued and al-Nimr was not arrested at that time.
Al-Ahsa cleric Tawfiq al-Amer was arrested in March 2011 and convicted in December 2012 on charges of inciting unrest, calling for changes in the political system, and raising the Shia call to prayer, among other charges. He was sentenced to three years in prison followed by a five-year travel ban. In June his sentence was extended to four years by an appeals court that ruled he had also insulted the Prophet Muhammad.
Some authorities indicated they consider Ahmadiyya Muslims to be Muslims, but their legal status remained unclear. Ahmadis were not allowed to perform pilgrimages. Mainly foreign workers from India and Pakistan, Ahmadis hid their faith to avoid arrest and deportation. In 2012, two brothers, Sultan Hamid and Saud Falih al-Enezi, were reportedly arrested on apostasy charges and imprisoned after refusing to recant their beliefs. Their families and community members were not allowed to contact them, and there was no information on their judicial status or process during the year.
The government blocked access to some internet websites with religious content it considered offensive or sensitive, including the Shia news website Al-Rasid, which publishes Friday sermons and op-eds by prominent Shia clerics. Blocking the websites was consistent with a broader official policy of censoring objectionable content, including political discourse and illicit materials.
More than 1,000 Eastern Province Shia were arrested over the last three years in connection with public protests demanding greater rights for Shia. At year’s end, approximately 200 remained in detention. The government continued to prohibit public non-Muslim religious activities across the country and further restricted non-Sunni activities in predominantly Sunni areas. Public commemorations of Ashura, a Shia religious holy day, and lesser Shia holidays were permitted in Qatif, an in the Eastern Province whose population is almost completely Shia. The same commemorations were required to be conducted in private, however, in al-Ahsa, an area in the Eastern Province with an almost equal proportion of Sunnis and Shia.
Many of the reported government actions 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. Information regarding government practices was generally incomplete because judicial proceedings usually were not publicized or were closed to the public, despite provisions in the criminal procedure law requiring court proceedings to be open. There were reports some trials were open to family members of the accused and to journalists. 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. Online criticism of the CPVPV increased during the year, and individuals, particularly women, on several occasions reportedly challenged CPVPV personnel who harassed them in public.
According to the media, police detained and imprisoned persons on charges of “sorcery”, “black magic”, and “ witchcraft.” Authorities reportedly charged more than 100 people with “sorcery” and “witchcraft,” and the CPVPV arrested 215 “magicians,” according to Abd al-Latif Al al-Sheikh, head of the CPVPV. The CPVPV continued a campaign against sorcery and established a field unit in 2012 to arrest “sorcerers and charlatans” and refer them to relevant authorities, describing sorcery as one of the “key causes of religious and social instability in the kingdom.”
The government continued to combat “extremist” ideology by scrutinizing religious clerics and teachers closely and dismissing those found promoting views it deemed intolerant or extreme. The MOIA reportedly established criteria for recruiting mosque imams, including requirements that imams graduate from a Saudi religious university, pass an evaluative interview, espouse “moderate” religious views, and receive recommendations from three religious scholars. The MOIA also provided training courses and other programs for imams and monitored and posted counter-arguments on extremist online forums and websites.
The government restricted the ability of religious leaders and activists to express views critical of the religious establishment. There were reports Sunni clerics, who received government stipends, occasionally used anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Shia language in their sermons. Anti-Shia rhetoric in Sunni mosques in the Eastern Province reportedly increased during the year, and occasionally preachers in rural mosques reportedly ended Friday sermons with a prayer for the well-being of Muslims and the humiliation of polytheism and polytheists.
The government generally limited public religious practice to activities conforming to the official interpretation of Islam. Practices diverging from the official interpretation, such as public celebrations of 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, while in other areas with large Shia populations, such as al-Ahsa and Dammam, authorities restricted Shia religious activities, including public marches and loudspeaker broadcasts of clerics’ lectures from Shia community centers (known as Husseiniyas). The government closed a number of Husseiniyas during Ashura.
Shia mosques in mixed religious neighborhoods reportedly were required to recite the Sunni call to prayer, which is distinct from the Shia call. In some predominantly Shia areas of al-Ahsa, however, Shia mosques previously required to use the Sunni call to prayer began using the Shia call. 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.
Some Shia faced obstacles constructing mosques and Husseiniyas. Shia mosques needed to receive government approval, but did not receive any government support for their construction or operations, which most Sunni mosques received. The government approved construction of some new Shia mosques in Qatif and al-Ahsa – often after lengthy delays due to the numerous steps required – but did not approve construction of Shia mosques in Dammam, home to many Shia. Constructing new Shia mosques in al-Ahsa was much more difficult than building a Sunni mosque. Shia mosques had to receive permission from all of the neighbors to start construction, and were not allowed to be built as closely together as Sunni mosques. Virtually all existing mosques were unable to obtain licenses and faced the threat of closure at any time. Shia in other parts of the country were not allowed to build Shia-specific mosques. Ismailis in Najran Province reportedly did not face similar obstacles to building and renovating mosques, however.
The government would not approve any construction of Husseiniyas, even in Qatif, and no Husseinyas in Qatif or al-Ahsa were legally licensed to operate, although they had tacit permission to do so. The government monitored activities in the Husseiniyas and periodically shut down those that did not follow rules about avoiding political topics. During the month of Muharram, during which Ashura occurs, the government closed all Husseiniyas in Dammam, as well as several in al-Ahsa that were accused of breaking rules during Ashura commemorations the previous year.
The government did not officially recognize several centers of Shia religious instruction located in the Eastern Province, provide financial support, recognize certificates of educational attainment for their graduates, or provide employment for their graduates, all benefits which the government provided to Sunni religious training institutions.
There was significant public discussion, including in the media, questioning the official version of religious traditions and criticizing their enforcement. Discussion of sensitive religious issues such as sectarian differences remained limited, however, and criticism of Islam was forbidden. Individuals who publicly criticized the official interpretation of Islam risked harassment, intimidation, and detention; 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 shutdown of their publications.
Widespread prejudice against Shia remained. Reports persisted that Shia faced discrimination in education, employment, the military, political representation, the judiciary, religious practice, and the media, although they were represented in these fields. Primary reasons cited for discrimination included historical Sunni-Shia animosity, suspicion of Iranian influence on Shia actions, and the view Shia were polytheists who commited apostasy in practicing some of their religious rites.
The government continued to exclude Shia perspectives from the state’s extensive religious media and broadcast programming. Shia bookstores reportedly could not be licensed. In addition, terms like “rejectionists” that were considered 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 5 percent of professors at a leading university in al-Ahsa, an area with a population at least 50 percent Shia.
At the primary and secondary levels of education in al-Ahsa, there continued to be severe underrepresentation of Shia among school principals. There were no female Shia principals in the 200 schools for girls in al-Ahsa, and 20 male Shia principals in the 200 schools for boys in al-Ahsa.
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 reportedly believed openly identifying themselves as Shia would negatively affect career advancement.
Qatif community leaders stated zoning laws and restrictions on use of land held by Aramco, the government-owned oil and natural gas company, and members of the royal family surrounding Qatif prevented investment and development in these areas and aimed to limit the density of the Shia population in any given area.
Government entities discriminated against Shia in hiring. Although Shia constituted approximately 10 to 15 percent of the total 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, the National Guard, and the MOI. Shia representation was higher in the ranks of traffic police, municipalities, and public schools in predominantly Shia 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. Shia held six of 11elected seats on Eastern Province municipal councils. An elected Shia headed the Qatif municipal council.
Nakhawala Shia faced more discriminatory practices in comparison to the Twelvers in the Eastern Province. Discrimination in employment and education was based on the Nakhawala surname “al-Nakhly,” which roughly translates as “farmers” and identifies their minority status and group.
The Sulaimaniya Ismaili community reported improving conditions in Najran Province, although community leaders asserted the government discriminated against them by prohibiting their religious books. Ismailis reportedly occupied government positions in Najran Province, including military and police positions.
Revisions to textbooks for grades 10, 11, and 12, which were slated for review and reform, had not been undertaken by year’s end. The textbooks retained inflammatory and anti-Semitic material. For example, the textbooks stated apostates from Islam should be killed if they did not repent within three days of being warned, and described Islamic minorities and Christians as heretics. Some Quranic passages likening Jews and Christians to apes and swine continued to be included. The textbooks also stated treachery was a “permanent characteristic” of non-Muslims, especially Jews, propagated conspiracy theories that international organizations such as Masons support Zionism, and presented historical forgeries, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as fact.
The Ministry of Education stated the textbooks for grades one through nine were reformed in 2012 to remove intolerant language. Textbooks for these grades continued to contain directives to kill “sorcerers” and socially exclude infidels as well as accusations that Jews, Christians, Shia, and Sufis did not properly adhere to monotheism.
Textbooks at all levels contained positive statements as well, including rejection of terrorism, acknowledgement that some People of the Book (understood to be Jews and Christians) “are prone to goodness,” and support for religious tolerance.
Some leading government and religious officials, including the king and crown prince, made public statements against extremism and advocated tolerance and moderation. In his annual Hajj message on October 18, King Abdullah urged Muslims to deal with others “with a forgiving humanity that does not reject others just because they believe in different religions.” In a joint statement on July 10 commemorating the start of Ramadan, King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman emphasized the Quranic verse, “there is no compulsion in religion,” and stated, “we will not allow extremists to misuse religion in order to realize their vested interests.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah said in an international forum on education reform on November 19, “we should be cautious about spreading negative ideas about followers of other religions through curricula or history books. We should not accept such antagonistic practices.”