A video filmed inside a crowded Saudi Arabian jail has surfaced on the Internet, angering activists who decry prisoners’ living conditions. Our Observer, an activist who has spent time in Saudi jails, says the situation has been getting worse.
In Saudi Arabia, many prisoners have access to mobile phones via the black market. Some use them to film their experiences (This is not unheard of – French prisoners have denounced their living conditions by leaking videos, too).
The latest video to surface from Saudi Arabia was filmed in Braiman prison, in the city of Jeddah. It shows men sitting or sleeping on thin mats over nearly every inch of a hallway. The situation is the same throughout the prison, according to a source who has visited the facility.
The National Society for Human Rights, a government-sanctioned organisation, has repeatedly said that most prisons in the country are overcrowded, mainly due to the lengthy confinement of prisoners awaiting trial. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, has pointed to reports of inhumane conditions in Saudi prisons, including a case in which five Ethiopian detainees allegedly suffocated to death last August due to overcrowding. The government appears to be trying to reduce the number of people it incarcerates, notably by creating community service programmes as an alternative to jail time.

“My cell was 5 metres by 6 metres, and I had 23 cellmates”

Hussain is a Saudi activist who has made several trips to prison due to his frequent participation in anti-government protests. His latest stint was at Khobar Prison, in the eastern part of the kingdom, where he spent three and a half months last spring.
Recently, prisons have been getting more and more crowded, and the conditions are getting more and more difficult. The last prison I went to was the worst one I have seen yet – just as bad if not worse as in Jeddah, from what I can see in leaked videos. My cell was 5 metres by 6 metres, and I had 23 cellmates. We had to take turns sleeping – some of the men even slept in the toilet stalls. It could get very cold at night, and we didn’t have enough blankets.
The prison’s hygiene was terrible. The food was barely cooked. When we were served pieces of chicken, there would still be feathers on it.
Of course, in these conditions, people would get sick very easily, and because we lived in such close quarters, illness would spread very rapidly. On top of that, it was very hard to see a doctor.
My back was injured during a brutal interrogation after my arrest. In prison, my injury only got worse, because I had to sleep on the floor. I asked to see a doctor – two weeks later, I finally saw one. All he would give me was acetaminophen, which didn’t work. That’s all the doctors would give anyone, no matter what the problem was. My doctor told me that was all they had to give, anyway. My back finally got so bad that they finally had to let me out so I could get real treatment in a hospital.
The strange thing is, in the news, you read lots of stories about how Saudi prisons are getting more money, about how they’re making living conditions better for prisoners… but we don’t see this in prison. The money doesn’t seem to get to where it needs to go.”