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. The Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, powers and duties of the government, and provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. In 2015 the country held municipal elections on a nonparty basis for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats in the 284 municipal councils around the country. Information on whether the elections met international standards was not available, but independent polling station observers identified no significant irregularities with the elections. 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 significant human rights issues included unlawful killings, including execution for other than the most serious offenses and without requisite due process; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of lawyers, human rights activists, and antigovernment reformists; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, including on the internet, and criminalization of libel; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official gender discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were announced; and criminalization of same sex sexual activity.
Beginning in November the government detained approximately 200 government officials, businesspersons, and royal family members ostensibly to investigate allegations of widespread corruption. According to media reports, members of the security forces coerced with relative impunity at least some of the detainees to the point of requiring medical care.