London: Saudi Arabia has made minor progress on its dismal human rights record but the powerful state security apparatus and the conservative religious regime continue to block real change, Amnesty International said Thursday.
Despite recently formed human rights bodies and reforms to the justice system, prisoners still face secret and summary justice, women are frequently abused, and faiths other than
Sunni Muslim are still unable to worship freely in the country, Amnesty said in its annual report for 2010.
"The authorities used a wide range of repressive measures to suppress freedom of expression and other legitimate activities" last year, Amnesty said.
It cited the ongoing practice of detention without charge or trial of people suspected of links to what the Saudis brand as "terrorist" activities.
Amnesty said "thousands" of people arrested in recent years on terror-related allegations remained in prison without charge, trial or access to legal advice, with "hundreds" more
arrested in 2009.
And some 330 accused of links to Al-Qaeda were tried by secret tribunal without defence attorneys last year, Amnesty said. Of these, one was sentenced to death, and 323 to prison
Meanwhile prisoners face torture and mistreatment including beatings, electric shocks, suspension and sleep deprivation, it said.
"The authorities used a range of repressive measures in the name of countering terrorism, undermining embryonic legal reforms."
Security forces can ignore new rights-related laws "knowing they could act with impunity," Amnesty said.
Despite the first woman ever being named to a deputy minister position last year, under the country`s ultra-conservative Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam, women still face
"severe discrimination," Amnesty said.
Officials last June pledged to the UN rights officials to give women more freedoms and protection.
But they remained banned from driving, subject to tight controls on their movements and forbidden to associate with unrelated men.
Despite a growing Saudi campaign to protect women from domestic violence, Amnesty cited several cases showing that reforms have not gone far.