The New York-based rights organization said on Sunday that the detentions raised doubts about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)’s modernization plan dubbed Vision 2030.
“If Saudi authorities can hold a detainee for months on end with no charges, it’s clear that the Saudi criminal justice system remains broken and unjust, and it only seems to be getting worse,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at the HRW.
“It seems that MBS’s ‘Vision2030’ plan better describes the length of detentions without charge than an aspirational time horizon for reforms.”
The rights group analyzed data from a public online Saudi Interior Ministry database, saying 3,380 people had been held for more than six months without a conviction or their “case file under judicial review,” including 2,949 for over a year and 770 for above three years.
One Saudi citizen has been held without a conviction since September 2003 and another “under investigation” since December 2006, the HRW added.
“We’ve reverted to a Saudi version of Kafka when authorities detain citizens for over a decade without charge because they are ‘under investigation’,” Whitson said.
“This effectively means that Saudi authorities can detain and jail anyone they want by claiming they are investigating them, however endless the investigation,” she added.
Whitson also urged Saudi Arabia’s attorney general to promptly charge or release all the defendants held arbitrarily.
She further challenged the crown prince’s pledge to bring major social and economic changes to Saudi Arabia amid a recent dramatic increase in incarceration without trial.
“Mohammad bin Salman’s promises to modernize and strengthen the rule of law mean very little when the authorities can lock away thousands of people for years and throw away the key,” she said.