The female prisoners in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the problems they encounter in prisons and detentions centers, and the violations committed against them, seem to be the weakest link in terms of the follow-up and the attention of media and official institutions or human rights organizations. Why not be? And the rights of Saudi women are flouted and violated, in which lawmakers ignore the protection of their rights at the sight of these institutions, until their situation became described according to some human rights reports by “like the one living in a box” (Human Rights Watch report, July 16, 2016).
This time the real box is a box of concrete walls. It is that tightly locked prison where these inmates suffer from problems and violations of their rights. Accordingly, the Saudi Organization for Rights and Freedoms (SAORF) decided to get through it, whether through monitoring the cases reported by the media, or by following-up the statements and recommendations issued by the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) on the situation of women’s prisons, in addition to the Human Rights reports in this respect and their findings of demands and solutions to safeguard their human dignity, which was affirmed by the Universal Declaration of Human Right in 1948, and many other conventions and international treaties.
This gloomy dark box of multiple naming, is sometimes called the Care House which includes female prisoners of Saudi nationality whose ages are between twenty and thirty, and at other times it is called the prison or the house of correction of female prisoners of different nationalities and all ages in addition to the Saudi prisoners who are over the age of thirty. Anyhow, it is the place where they are supposed to be detained to spend the duration of their assumed sentence for a fault they have made or a crime they have committed.
Official bodies dealing with the female prisoners:
Sometimes, dealing with this issue might seem to be one of the prohibitions, since what is being reiterated in the ears of everyone are words such as “women’s privacy in Saudi society”. We do not deny this at the level of the community practices which are contrary to the practices of the official parties that do not take into consideration any kind of that “privacy” at all.
Quite the contrary, they are being arrested by men and not women and treated with rudeness and cruelty, contrary to Article 28 of the Law of Imprisonment and Detention (Prisoners and detainees shall not be assaulted in any kind of assault. Disciplinary measures shall be taken against civil personnel or military officers who engage in any aggression against any prisoner or detainee, and without prejudice to the criminal sanctions against them in cases where the assault is a crime). Besides, the vehicles which transport them during detention are not prepared for women’s status. With regard to investigation, all regulations and religious texts provide for the need of a guardian or “mahram”, while the opposite is exactly proved in applying the meaning of privacy in investigation! Instead, the mahram is the jailer, some men, or a member of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, and this is the biggest violation not only for the alleged “khulwa” (seclusion), but also for the most important standards of justice, particularly Article 36 of the Law of Imprisonment and Detention (The interrogation and investigation with the woman shall be in the presence of a mahram, if that was impossible, seclusion is not allowed). Let alone the verbal abuses or sexual gestures during investigations which all affect the words of the detainee during investigation and constitute a means of pressure for confession, and consequently, on the judgment because confession is a main element for criminalization which is difficult to be revoked, and this is a clear breach of the first clause of Article 36 which states that the detainee shall be treated in a manner which preserves his dignity and shall not be harmed physically or morally. He shall be informed about the reasons of his detention and shall have the right to communicate with those whom he wants to notify.
The sufferings of female prisoners with the trials:
One of the first and more severe violations practiced against women who lie in those prisons is remaining without trial for a longtime and no decision to be taken about their detention, release, or the period of trial without a verdict, and this is a big trouble and a breach of Article 144 of the Law of Criminal Procedure (The detention shall end with the passage of five days, unless the Investigator sees fit to extend the detention period. In that case, he shall, prior to expiry of that period, refer the file to the Chairman of the branch of Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution in the relevant province so that he may issue an order for extending the period of the detention for a period or successive periods provided that they do not exceed in their aggregate forty days from the date of arrest, or otherwise release the accused). This article also states that the period of detention shall not exceed six months from the date of arrest of the accused. Thereafter, the accused shall be directly transferred to the competent court, or be released. Whereas, we find that the official papers have monitored cases about many female prisoners who were kept detained for periods of one or two years in prisons without being tried.
The same is the case of many women who were proved after being detained that they have no relation with any crime or offense and that they might spend years of their lives with criminals for instance, while they are waiting for the sentence or for setting a date to convene or attend the trial. Article 7 stipulates that (It is impermissible to hold any person in prison or detention center or release him unless by a written order from the competent authority. The prisoner and the detainee shall not be kept in the prison or the detention center after the termination of the period specified in the order of his detention). In addition, the consequences of their existence all these periods behind those walls and the negative impacts on their social and family life are no secret.
What makes things worse is that the female detainee should have a male identifier to be able to hire an attorney in a case where the identifier himself might be a party in it.
Therefore, we find that the male guardianship system which governs women in its various details in the Saudi society, casts its long shadow on their reality inside the prisons. In addition to the subject of the identifier, we find that the female prisoner is not allowed to leave the prisons even if she had terminated the period of her sentence – women and men are on equal footings in terms of punishment and criminal procedure – unless by the consent of her guardian who is the only one entitled to receive her upon her release.
The conditions of women’s prisons:
The problem of overcrowding in detention centers or prisons and the trafficking in persons is almost the worst in most women’s prisons, and this was reiterated in most of the National Society for Human Rights’ statements following the visits of the female delegation members to the prisons, monitoring their conditions and following up the situations of the female prisoners. Those statements also monitored a chaos, lack of order and dilapidated buildings which need maintenance. The report issued by the US State Department about the conditions of prisons and detention centers has also pointed out to this problem in which it explained that some of them do not meet the international standards and that the prevailed overcrowding in some detention centers constituted a real problem.
The law level of hygiene is also a violation of female prisoners’ rights guaranteed by the local systems to male and female prisoners, whereas, the National Society recommended in its visit to the prison administration to draw an attention to the hygiene of centers and toilets and fix the air-conditioning there, since this leads to the quick spread of diseases and the transmission of infections among prisoners.
Moreover, randomness in the distribution of inmates in the centers despite the difference of their cases between moral, criminal, drug and disobedience, is in contrary with the decision of the Council of Ministers (725) dated 22/12/1380, and a breach of Article 10 of the Law of Imprisonment and Detention (The Executive Regulations set the rules of the distribution of prisoner according to the type of crimes for which they are sentenced and to their seriousness and the frequency of their commission in accordance with the terms of the sentences and the foundations that facilitate the assessment of the sentenced persons), where female prisoners sentenced with big crimes are held with those sentenced with small crimes. Many female prisoners are kept without trials, while some others are prevented from communicating their parents and this is also indicated in a statement about the situation of such prisoners who have complained to the delegation members that they are not allowed to contacts their parents and this act is contrary to the Interior of Ministry decision number 3919 dated 22/10/10398 and a breach to the aforementioned Article 36.
The rights of female prisoners in the Saudi Laws:
The Saudi Organization for Rights and Freedom points out that most of the abovementioned problems were reported in official media, through the internet, or by statements made by the National Society which confirms that there are more severe violations which were prohibited from being published, including the practice of torture upon investigation and punishment for violations and that is contrary to Article 15 of the Convention Against Torture which Saudi Arabia joined in 1997: (Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings). In addition to the detention of children under two years with their mothers in cells overcrowded with female prisoners of different cases and without nurseries, although the Tariff Bulletin which monitored about 50 rights of the Saudi male and female rights guaranteed by Laws states in Article 15 that (the Saudi female prisoner shall have the right to foster her child until he reaches two years) and that a nursery for the prisoners’ children under two years should be available as well as specialized nursery to oversee them.
The Tariff Bulletin also monitored 17 rights of the female prisoners, including their rights to medical care, to pursue their education within prison and to religious culture, in which the prison term of the female prison would be reduced by half in case she memorized the Quran or parts of it.
The female prisoners in Saudi Arabia have the right to get a financial aid, a part from the cooked food as well as a special diet for diabetics or their counterparts as required.
The Tariff Bulletin also talks about the female right to meet with her sons and daughters and her right for her family and living conditions to be studied to lead her to the right path, and the right for her needy family to be assisted by philanthropic parties.
The right of female recidivists for their conditions to be looked into by a specialized committee to eradicate the problems that compel them to be recidivists. The pregnant prisoner has the right to be treated in a special way, including not to be entrusted with tiring tasks that would harm her health or that of her fetus.
The necessity to raise awareness and formulate more accurate systems:
In order not to keep these rights just ink on papers, the Saudi Organization for Rights and Freedoms calls upon the National Society for Human Rights to raise the awareness of female prisoners about their legal rights and provide them with a detailed list of those rights and therefore not to allow the exploitation or violation of their rights since six women have been recently appointed in the Commission on Human Rights consisting of 28 member and their responsibility in addressing the legal and humanitarian problems for dealing with the female prisoners and monitoring their situations became larger. We also recommend the establishment of offices for the Society inside the prisons to address their sufferings and reply to their demands to speed up the judgment in their cases and help in the release of those whose sentences have ended.
SAORF stresses the necessity to treat the female prisoners in a humanitarian manner in accordance with the provisions of Article 35 of the Law of Criminal Procedure which states that the female prisons shall be treated decently and shall not be subjected to any bodily or moral harm. They shall be provided with the social and psychological care to help them adapt and be familiar with the environment of the prison and solve their entire psychological and social problem, particularly those related to them or to their families.
At last but not least, the organization finds that it is no longer accepted to hide the underlying problem behind our fingers, but it is time to point out to the main defect and the negligence in drafting and drawing up more accurate, objective and strict laws and regulations to protect the rights from violations and preserve for the weak his rights without a favor.