‘Know Your Rights’ Campaign Launched in Saudi Arabia
Monday 14 April 2008
By Turki Al-Saheil
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- The National Association for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia has launched an introductory campaign to inform people of their 39 legal rights in cases of arrest, investigation, inspection and trial in the form of a booklet entitled ‘Know Your Rights’ published in the Arabic language.
An official at the National Association for Human Rights told Asharq Al-Awsat that they are about to review draft versions of the information booklet in other languages for the benefit of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, outlining the rights of the accused.
The association based these rights on the set of rules regarding criminal procedure that was issued under royal decree on August 22, 2006 at a time when severe criticism was leveled against several forces for failing to adhere to the law.
The human rights association stated in the preface of the booklet that the penal system “respects the rights of citizens and residents and stresses the necessity to deal with them in an appropriate manner that preserves their dignity and upholds respect for their material and moral rights and prohibits violation of their freedom and whatever may harm them, their money or their honor.”
The National Association for Human Rights has distributed approximately 20,000 copies of the booklet and participated in several cultural events that were held recently in the Saudi capital Riyadh such as the Riyadh International Book Fair.
An official at the association, who preferred to remain anonymous, stated that a delegation from the human rights association handed out some of the booklets to detainees in Buraiman prison in Jeddah when a delegation visited the prison recently. The source added that the association intended to distribute the information booklets at police stations.
The information booklet is divided into four parts. According to the booklet, the law prohibits physical and moral abuse as well as the use of torture and degrading behavior. Moreover, individuals can only be detained in areas allocated for such purposes and for a period that is specified by a competent authority.
The penal code states upon the invalidity of arresting or detaining an individual without a warrant issued by one of the authorities. The accused should be treated in a decent manner that preserves his dignity and should be informed of the reason for his detention and of his right to contact whomever he wishes to inform.
According to the set of rules, the accused has the right to a legal representative to defend him throughout the course of the proceedings. The legal representative has the right to accompany the accused throughout the procedures of the investigation.
The rules that are clearly explained in the booklet assert that no one should be arrested unless there is evidence that the individual has committed a crime. Furthermore, the officer responsible for the arrest should file a report and deliver it immediately to the investigation and public prosecution panel.
According to the law, the accused should be questioned within 24 hours. In fact, the law asserts upon the necessity of questioning the accused shortly after arrest otherwise the investigation department should order his release. The accused should not be detained for more than 24 hours unless a written order is issued by the investigator. The statements should be listened to immediately. If the accused does not present any evidence that could acquit him, he should be interrogated within 24 hours and consequently detained or released.
In cases where an individual has been arrested or detained, the law states that the accused should be informed immediately of the reasons behind his arrest or detention. Members of the investigation and public prosecution panel should visit prisons and detention centers outside of official working hours so as to make sure that no detainees have been arrested on an illegitimate basis. They should also meet the accused to hear any complaints.
The accused has the right to make an official verbal or written complaint at any time to the head of the prison or the detention center and for it to be delivered to the head of the investigation and public prosecution panel. The head of the prison should also provide the accused with evidence that his complaint has been passed on. The penal system prohibits inspection as a rule and only allows it with certain restrictions. The system considers people, their homes, offices and vehicles as “sanctities that should be protected.” The sanctity of the individual should protect his body, clothes, money and belongings. The sanctity of houses includes any place that is enclosed or surrounded by barriers or even prepared to be used as shelter.
If the accused is female, she can only be searched by another female who is to be appointed by the officer in charge. The law states that there should always be a female present to accompany the investigation team.
The penal system states that inspection should take place during the daytime unless it is suspected that a crime is taking place.
The system prohibits intercepting phone calls or opening letters unless there is a valid reason and for a specified period only.
In relation to the investigation procedure, the system asserts upon the invalidity of corrupting the will of the accused, forcing the accused to take an oath, or using coercive methods. It is also prohibited to investigate the accused away from the investigation premises unless it is absolutely necessary.
The system states that the suspect should not be detained for longer than five days unless the investigator believes that this period needs to be extended. In this case, the investigator must submit the necessary documents to the head of the investigation panel and public prosecution authority before the first five day period is over so that an extension may be granted. The accused however cannot be detained for longer than 40 days from the day of the arrest.
In cases where the accused needs to be held for longer periods, the case must be referred to the head of the investigation and public prosecution panel on the condition that the renewal does not surpass six months from the date of arrest. After this period, the accused should immediately be tried or released.
The accused is allowed to apply for release if the investigator believes that his release would not harm the investigation and that the accused would not flee and would attend whenever he is summoned. In this case, the investigator may allow his release.
The system prohibits bringing the accused into court bound by shackles and handcuffs; furthermore, the accused should not be prevented from attending the hearing unless he has acted in a way that requires such action to be taken. In this case, the court should inform the accused of any decisions that have been made during his absence.
The system gives the accused the right to be the last one to speak at the hearing sessions of his trial. It also grants the accused the right to be released immediately if the verdict states that he is not guilty or if his punishment does not include imprisonment or if he has already served an equivalent sentence during his detention period.