The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The government bases its legitimacy on its interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) and the 1992 Basic Law, which specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud. In December 2015 the country held municipal elections on a nonparty basis for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats on the 284 municipal councils around the country. Independent polling station observers identified no significant irregularities with the election. For the first time, women were allowed to vote and run as candidates. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most important human rights problems reported in 2016 included citizens’ lack of the ability and legal means to choose their government; restrictions on universal rights, such as freedom of expression, including on the internet, and the freedoms of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and pervasive gender discrimination and lack of equal rights that affected most aspects of women’s lives.
Other human rights problems reported included: a lack of judicial independence and transparency that manifested itself in denial of due process and arbitrary arrest and detention; a lack of equal rights for children and noncitizen workers; abuses of detainees; overcrowding in prisons and detention centers; investigating, detaining, prosecuting, and sentencing lawyers, human rights activists, and antigovernment reformists; holding political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence; and a lack of equal rights for children and noncitizen workers. Violence against women; trafficking in persons; and discrimination based on gender, religion, sect, race, and ethnicity were common. Lack of governmental transparency and access made it difficult to assess the magnitude of many reported human rights problems.
The government identified, prosecuted, and punished a limited number of officials who committed abuses, particularly those engaged or complicit in corruption. Some members of the security forces and other senior officials reportedly committed abuses with relative impunity.