Amnesty: Saudi spending millions of dollars to cover up abuses

Saudi Arabia commits human rights violations that include torture, amputations, secret trials and public executions and hires American public relations firms to cover up those violations, according to a report by Amnesty International released Tuesday.

The London-based human rights watchdog said in its latest report - "Saudi Arabia: A Secret State of Suffering," - that the Riyadh government "spares no effort in keeping its appalling human rights record a secret by employing well-paid, foreign-based public relations firms and lobbyists."

It said the United States and other governments it did not identify, in order to advance business interests and geopolitical concerns, were helping maintain the secrecy. In 1999, the oil-rich kingdom paid public relations firms more than dlrs 1 million for this purpose, Amnesty said.

Saudi Foreign Ministry officials contacted Tuesday by The Associated Press refused to comment. The New York Times, however, quoted Prince Turki bin Mohammed, a deputy foreign minister, criticizing the report as inaccurate.

"We have nothing to hide in human rights," he was quoted as saying. "There is no harm in having their point of view, but they have to be more accurate in their information."

The report is part of a six-month worldwide campaign by Amnesty to "expose and combat the widespread human rights violations" in Saudi Arabia.

It said it planned to stage a demonstration Tuesday near the Saudi Embassy in Washington and will publicize "the brutality of the Saudi Arabian justice system" by traveling between the embassy, public relations firms employed by the Saudi government and the State Department.

The report said Amnesty has received testimonies claiming brutality, torture and ill-treatment in many police stations, prisons and detention centers across the country.

So far this year, at least five people have had their hands or feet amputated in Saudi Arabia for crimes including sodomy and theft. At least 13 people have been beheaded this year, mainly for murder and drug trafficking.

The Amnesty report cited the case of an American citizen, Stanley Kizzie, held in a Saudi prison for 5 1/2 months last year without charge or trial.

"I have witnessed many of the human rights violations that Amnesty International cites in its report," Kizzie was quoted as saying in the report.

Christians, Sikhs and other minorities in the Muslim monarchy, it said, were subject to discrimination and were targeted by security forces. "Political and religious opponents of the government, migrant workers, women and other powerless individuals emerge as consistent victims of discrimination," it added.

Political groups are banned in Saudi Arabia and authorities do not tolerate any form of public dissent.

Women are not allowed to drive, must remain covered head-to-toe in public - in line with strict Muslim laws - and are not allowed to travel abroad unless they have written approval from or are accompanied by a close relative such as a husband or a brother.

There are no trade unions in Saudi Arabia and human rights groups have in the past accused authorities of taking unjust and arbitrary action against foreign workers, the majority of whom are from Egypt, India, Indonesia and Pakistan.

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