Human rights group says many in Saudi government favour reform

28 January 2003
New York-based Human Rights Watch concluded its visit to Saudi Arabia on 27 January, saying that many in the Saudi government understood the need to back words with action to improve the kingdom's human rights record. The Human Rights Watch delegation was granted an audience with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, Justice Minister Abdullah al-Sheik and Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abdul-Aziz, during what was the first visit of an independent human rights group to Saudi Arabia. 'In the past few days we have been encouraged to believe that many within the government understand the importance of matching words with reality,' said executive director Hanny Megally. He said that, in the past, good legislation had not been followed up by determined implementation, but that judicial reforms had made the system clearer and improved access to legal representation. Under the kingdom's strict laws, murder and drug smuggling are punishable by execution, adultery by stoning, and more minor offences by flogging. Megally also said that Human Rights Watch was still putting pressure on the Saudi government to allow access to seven Westerners accused of a series of bombings in the kingdom. In December, the organisation issued a strong criticism of their treatment.

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