A group of foreign construction workers who staged a protest about unpaid wages have been sentenced to 300 lashes and four months behind bars in Saudi Arabia.
Video from the protest in April shows a row of buses belonging to their employer, Binladin Group, set ablaze by the angry men, who claimed had not been paid for six months.
Authorities confirmed at the time that seven buses were set alight.
In the courtroom in Mecca, some of the protesters were reportedly sentenced to four months in prison and 300 lashes for destroying public property and inciting unrest during the demonstration. Others were given a lesser sentence of 45 days’ detention.
Workers employed by the Binladin Group and Saudi Oger were left waiting for their wages after a collapse in oil revenues left the kingdom unable to pay the private firms it had contracted to undertake major building projects.
Binladin Group, which has constructed hundreds of landmark buildings in Saudi Arabia on government contracts, was founded more than 80 years ago by the father of deceased Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The company said it had completed payment to 70,000 sacked employees at the end of 2016.
Workers still with the company would get their back pay as the government settled its arrears, the company said.
Tens of thousands of employees of Saudi Oger, which is led by Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, were also waiting for wages.
One Oger worker said in December that he had received part of the money but was still owed five months of pay.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
The government had earlier said that it would pay its arrears to private firms by the following month, Middle East Eye reported.
But on 22 December, Finance Minister Mohammed Aljadaan, after releasing the 2017 budget, said money owed to the private sector would be paid “within 60 days”.
The majority of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia come from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many send the majority of their earnings to families in their home country, who rely on them to get by.