WASHINGTON – The gruesome killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi diplomatic installation in Turkey last month has cast a world spotlight on rights abuses by the conservative desert kingdom.
But the outcry over President Donald Trump's seeming indifference — his declaration Tuesday that he was, in essence, taking the word of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over that of American intelligence agencies, which say the kingdom's young de facto ruler almost certainly authorized Khashoggi's assassination — points up another uncomfortable phenomenon: Although Western governments are often critical of the Saudi flouting of human rights standards, most are nonetheless willing to continue doing business with its oil-rich absolute monarchy.
Here is a look at some widely cited violations of basic rights in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's judicial system is grounded in sharia, or Islamic law. It has one of the world's highest rates of executions, usually carried out by beheading with a sword. Human Rights Watch counted 48 cases of capital punishment in the first four months of this year, half of them for nonviolent crimes such as drug offenses. Other punishments include amputations of a hand or foot and public floggings.
Crown Prince Mohammed, the heir to the Saudi throne, won worldwide plaudits in June by lifting the ban on women driving — a high-profile gesture that fit with a reformist image. But Saudi women are still subject to "guardianship" rules, rooted in Islamic law, that relegate them to the status of legal minors, requiring the permission of a male relative, sometimes a young boy, to marry, travel abroad or make other important life decisions. Most women adhere to a strict public dress code that calls for wearing a concealing cloak known as an abaya and a headscarf. Many public spaces remain segregated by gender.
Sidelining of rivals
A year ago, the crown prince launched what was billed as an anti-corruption drive that saw the detentions of about 200 people. Among those caught up in the crackdown were government officials, business leaders and members of the royal family, including one of the world's wealthiest men, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. A luxury hotel, the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, served as a prison, but in a jarring contrast to the luxurious surroundings, reports filtered out of some of the detainees being abused to the point of needing medical care. The government said it seized more than $100 billion in improperly gained assets, but suspicions that Mohammed was acting primarily to consolidate his power were fueled by secrecy surrounding the crackdown and a lack of transparency in any legal proceedings.
Jailing of dissidents
Saudi Arabia has for decades kept a tight lid on dissent, and rights groups say that practice has continued unabated — even intensified — since Mohammed became crown prince in 2017, with clerics, journalists, intellectuals and activists among the targets. Dozens of human rights defenders have been placed behind bars, sometimes without trial. Some self-exiled dissidents have been the target of efforts to lure them home or snatch them overseas, in a chilling echo of the Khashoggi case.
Repression of minorities
Saudi Arabia's Shiite Muslim minority, making up about 15 percent of the population, has long been subject to discrimination and repression. Those who seek equal rights have faced sharp reprisals; Shiite activist Israa Ghomgham, who took part in peaceful protests for rights for the Shiite minority, was jailed and could face the death penalty.
Pushback against critics
In August, Saudi Arabia responded to mild criticism from Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland about the imprisonment of dissidents with a full-on diplomatic tantrum — expelling the Canadian ambassador, ordering Saudi students out of Canada and dumping Canadian assets. Many observers viewed the episode as a warning that no criticism of the monarchy would be tolerated.