The government of Saudi Arabia engages in systematic, ongoing, and egregious
violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Despite the State Department’s contention
in its 2005 International Religious Freedom Report that there were, in fact, slight improvements
in Saudi government efforts to foster religious tolerance in Saudi society, the report again
concluded that freedom of religion “does not exist” in Saudi Arabia. Since its inception, the
Commission has recommended that Saudi Arabia be designated a “country of particular
concern,” or CPC. In September 2004, the State Department for the first time followed the
Commission’s recommendation and designated Saudi Arabia a CPC. In September 2005,
Secretary of State Rice approved a temporary 180-day waiver of further action, as a consequence
of CPC designation, to allow for continued diplomatic discussions with the Saudi government
and “to further the purposes of the International Religious Freedom Act.” The waiver expired in
late March 2006.
The repressive Saudi government continues to engage in an array of severe violations of
human rights as part of its repression of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.
Abuses include: torture and cruel and degrading treatment or punishment imposed by judicial
and administrative authorities; prolonged detention without charges and often incommunicado;
and blatant denials of the right to liberty and security of the person, including coercive measures
aimed at women and the broad jurisdiction of the mutawaa (religious police), whose powers are
vaguely defined and exercised in ways that violate the religious freedom of others.
The government of Saudi Arabia continues to enforce vigorously its ban on all forms of
public religious expression other than the government’s interpretation and enforcement of the
Hanbali school of Sunni Islam. This policy violates the rights of the large communities of non-
Muslims and Muslims from a variety of doctrinal schools of Islam who reside in Saudi Arabia,
including Shi’as, who make up 8-10 percent of the population. The government tightly controls
even the restricted religious activity it permits—through limits on the building of mosques, the
appointment of imams, the regulation of sermons and public celebrations, and the content of
religious education in public schools—and suppresses the religious views of Saudi and non-
Saudi Muslims who do not conform to official positions. Read More.