Ministry of Interior (MOI)
In the limited public security structure inherited from the Ottoman Empire, police work was done informally and justice was administered by local or tribal authorities. Gradually, during the reign of Abd al Aziz, modern organs of government were introduced and became responsible for maintaining public order.
The founder of the Kingdom, King Abdulaziz established peace, stability and security nationwide in accordance with Islamic Sharia laws. He put an end to political unrest, tribal conflicts and statelessness caused by absence of a powerful central government. His sons followed suit and developed the country further, adding to its stability and security. They paved the way for tremendous cultural and technological achievements in all fields all over the Kingdom.
By royal decree in 1950, Abd al Aziz created a general directorate to supervise all police functions in the kingdom, and a year later he established the Ministry of Interior, which has since been in charge of police matters.
The Ministry of Interior (MOI) bears the responsibility to serve citizens and residents, achieving security, stability, and tranquility. The history and formation of the MOI and its various sections passed through phases of administrative development and organization. Following is a historical development of the MOI.
In 1344H a General Authority was formed to administer Al Hijaz Region. On 21/2/1345H the basic law of governance was issued and internal affairs were assigned to the Public Prosecution Department. The Department included Public Security, Telegraph and Posts, Public Health, Municipalities, Public Works, Commerce, Agriculture, Industry, Minerals and all private establishments. Another Decree was issued was issued on 19/8/1350 H. Thereby the General Prosecution was divided into two: First Division: Ministry of Interior including Health, Education, Telegraph and Post, Legal Courts, General Police, Municipalities and Endowments (Article 17); Second Division: Deputies Council consists of Chairman and Deputies from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance and Al-Shura.
Responsibilities of those two divisions at that time were assigned to the Deputy General HRH Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz.
The Royal Decree number 18/4/10 was issued on 9/3/1353 H to merge the Ministry with the Deputies Council Bureau. Hence, the Ministry's responsibilities were assigned to Council of Deputies. On 1370 H, the Ministry of Interior was reformed according to the Royal Decree number 5/11/8697 dated 26/8/1370 H. The Ministry became responsible for Administration of the Regions, Emirates and Security Sectors in Al-Hijaz Region. In 1375 H, the Ministry was transferred from Al-Hijaz to Riyadh and it took responsibility of monitoring the Kingdom's regions gradually until it covered the whole Kingdom on 1380 H.
The Ministry of Interior had the following Ministers since its establishment:
- H.R.H. Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, from 27/06/1350 H. until 09/03/1353 H.
- H.R.H. Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal from 26/08/1370 H. until 20/09/1378 H.
- H.R.H. Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, from 20/09/1378 H. until 08/01/1380 H.
- H.R.H. Prince Musa'ad bin Abdulrahman, from 08/01/1380 H. until 03/07/1380 H.
- H.R.H. Prince Abdulmohsin bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, from 03/07/1380 H. until 01/04/1381 H.
- H.R.H. Prince Faisal bin Turki bin Abdulaziz, from 01/04/1381 H. until 03/06/1382 H.
- H.R.H. Prince Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud (Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques), from 03/06/1382 H. until 17/03/1395 H.
- H.R.H. Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, from 17/03/1395 H. until 28/07/1433 H.
- H.R.H. Prince Ahmad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, from 28/07/1433 H. until 20/12/1433 H.
- H.R.H. Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Minister of Interior, from 20/12/1433 H. up to date.
Subordinate to the Ministry of Interior general directorates charged with maintaining internal security included Public Security, Investigation, Coast Guard, and Special Security. The offices of the deputy ministers for administration, national security affairs, and immigration and naturalization, and the Internal Security Forces College were all on the same organizational level as the four general directorates. Governors of the amirates reported directly to the minister of interior.
An important feature of domestic security was the Ministry of Interior's centralized computer system at the National Information Center in Riyadh. The computer network, linking 1,100 terminals [as of 1994], maintained records on citizens' identity numbers and passports, foreigners' residence and work permits, hajj visas, vehicle registrations, and criminal records. Reports from agents and from the large number of informants employed by the security services were also entered. Officials of the Directorate of Intelligence had authority to carry out wiretaps and mail surveillance.
Ministry of Interior police and security forces were generally effective at maintaining law and order. The Board of Grievances (Diwan al-Mazalim), a high-level administrative judicial body that specializes in cases against government entities and reports directly to the king, is the only formal mechanism available to seek redress for claims of abuse. Citizens may report abuses by security forces at any police station, to the HRC, or to the NSHR. The HRC and the NSHR maintained records of complaints and outcomes, but privacy laws protected information about individual cases, and information was not publicly available. During the year the Board of Grievances held hearings and adjudicated claims of wrongdoing but there were no reported prosecutions of security force members for human rights violations. The HRC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, provided materials and training to police, security forces, and the CPVPV on protecting human rights.
The law provides that no entity may restrict a person’s actions or imprison a person, except under provisions of the law. Legally, authorities may not detain a person under arrest for more than 24 hours, except pursuant to a written order from a public investigator. Authorities must inform the detained person of the reasons for detention. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Interior, to which the majority of forces with arrest power reported, maintained broad authority to arrest and detain persons indefinitely without judicial oversight, notification of charges against them, or effective access to legal counsel or family. Authorities held persons for months and sometimes years without charge or trial, and reportedly failed to advise them promptly of their rights, including their legal right to be represented by an attorney.
Under the law detentions can be extended administratively for up to six months at the discretion of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution. Some human rights activists, women in particular, were detained and then released under the conditions that they refrain from social media use for activism and refrain from communicating with outside human rights organizations. A 2013 royal decree revised key elements of the Law of Criminal Procedure, nominally strengthening some protections of the original law but weakening some due process protections.
The law prohibits unlawful intrusions into the privacy of persons, their homes, places of work, and vehicles. Criminal investigation officers are required to maintain records of all searches conducted; these records should contain the name of the officer conducting the search, the text of the search warrant (or an explanation of the urgency that necessitated the search without a warrant), and the names and signatures of the persons who were present at the time of search. While the law also provides for the privacy of all mail, telegrams, telephone conversations, and other means of communication, the government did not respect the privacy of correspondence or communications, and the government used the considerable latitude provided by law to monitor activities legally and intervene where it deemed necessary.
The law states that defendants should be treated equally in accordance with sharia. While sharia as interpreted by the government extends these provisions to all citizens and noncitizens, the law and practice discriminate against women, noncitizens, nonpracticing Sunni, Shia, and persons of other religions. For example, judges may discount the testimony of nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, or persons of other religions; sources reported that judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia.
In the absence of a written penal code listing all criminal offenses and punishments, judges in the courts determine many of these penalties by legal interpretations of sharia, which can vary according to the judge and the circumstances of the case. The Council of Senior Religious Scholars, an autonomous advisory body, issues religious opinions (fatwas) that guide how judges interpret sharia. In February 2014 a royal decree for the first time set in the criminal code prison sentences for broadly defined terrorist crimes.
Sharia is not solely based on precedent. As a result, rulings and sentences diverged widely from case to case. According to judicial procedures, appeals courts cannot independently reverse lower court judgments; they are limited to affirming judgments or returning them to a lower court for modification. Even when judges did not affirm judgments, appeals judges in some cases returned the judgment to the judge who originally authored the opinion. This procedure sometimes made it difficult for parties to receive a ruling that differed from the original judgment in cases where judges hesitated to admit error. While judges may base their decisions on any of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, the Hanbali school predominates and forms the basis for the country’s law and legal interpretations of sharia. Shia citizens use their legal traditions to adjudicate family law cases between Shia parties, although either party can decide to adjudicate a case in state courts, which use Sunni legal tradition.
According to the law, there is neither presumption of innocence nor trial by jury. While the law states that court hearings shall be public, courts may be closed at the judge’s discretion. As a result many trials during the year were closed. Since 2013 foreign diplomatic missions have been able to obtain permission to attend nonconsular court proceedings (that is, cases to which neither the host country nor any of its nationals were a party), and they did so throughout the year. To attend, authorities required diplomats to obtain advance written approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the court administration, and the presiding judge.
Authorities sometimes did not permit entry to such trials to individuals other than diplomats who were not the legal agents or family members of the accused. Court officials at the SCC sometimes prevented individuals from attending trial sessions for seemingly trivial reasons, such as banning female relatives or diplomats from attending due to the absence of women officers to inspect the women upon entry to the courtroom. According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities may close a trial depending on the sensitivity of the case to national security, the reputation of the defendant, or the safety of witnesses.
Civil law does not protect human rights, including freedoms of speech and of the press; only local interpretation and the practice of sharia protect these rights. There were frequent reports of restrictions on free speech. The Basic Law specifies, “mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation, and strengthen unity. The media is prohibited from committing acts that lead to disorder and division, affect the security of the state or its public relations, or undermine human dignity and rights.” Authorities are responsible for regulating and determining which speech or expression undermines internal security.
In February 2014 the Law for Crimes of Terrorism and Terrorist-Financing (the CT law) went into effect following its approval by the Council of Ministers in 2013. For the first time, the law officially defines and criminalizes terrorism and terrorist financing in the criminal code. The legal definition of terrorism, however, is extremely broad, defining a terrorist crime (in part) as “any act…intended to disturb the public order of the state…or insult the reputation of the state or its position.” Saudi human rights activists and international human rights organizations criticized the law for its vague definition of terrorism and complained that the government could use it to prosecute peaceful dissidents for “insulting the state.” The new CT law allows the Ministry of Interior to access a terrorism suspect’s private communications as well as banking information in a manner inconsistent with the legal protections provided by criminal procedure law.
The law requires a government permit for an organized public assembly of any type. The government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies, and security forces reportedly arrested demonstrators and detained them for brief periods. Security forces, nonetheless, allowed a small number of unauthorized demonstrations throughout the country, despite a 2011 Ministry of Interior statement that demonstrations were banned and that it would take “all necessary measures” against those seeking to “disrupt order.” The Council of Senior Religious Scholars reinforced the ministry’s position, stating “demonstrations are prohibited in this country” and explaining that “the correct way in sharia of realizing common interests is by advising.”
There are severe restrictions on foreign travel, including for women and members of minority groups. No one may leave the country without an exit visa and a passport. Women under the age of 45, minors (men younger than 21), and other dependents or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a male guardian’s consent to travel abroad. A noncitizen wife needs permission from her husband to travel unless both partners sign a prenuptial agreement permitting the noncitizen wife to travel without the husband’s permission. Government entities and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children, prohibiting their travel. The male guardian is legally able in custody disputes to prevent even adult children from leaving the country.
Facilities Security Forces-Training Advisor Group was restructured in 2015 as a part of the Ministry of Interior-Military Advisory Group, in response to the former program's growing mission. The MOI-MAG transitioned from the administrative control of U.S. Central Command to the Army Materiel Command, and became a subordinate organization to AMC's Security Assistance Command. The MOI-MAG mission is to strengthening relationships, provide training, engineering advisory support, explosive ordnance advisory support and participation in the International Military Education and Training program.
As the Saudi MOI's need for training and skills increased, so did FSF-TAG roles and responsibilities. In addition to its military advisory role, the MOI-MAG operates under the State Department within the Office of Program Management of the Ministry of Interior and has interagency pacts with America's FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Treasury Department and other agencies.
OPM-MOI operates under the authority of the Technical Cooperation Agreement signed by the U.S. Secretary of State and the Saudi Minister of the Interior on May 16, 2008, and extended on Jan. 16, 2013, for 10 additional years. The Saudi Arabian critical infrastructure is threatened by highly adaptive and irregular threats from extremists, state-backed operatives, criminal organizations and natural hazards. Interagency reps work side-by-side with their Saudi counterparts, providing training and mentor support. MOI-MAG will soon introduce forward support engineer support teams to assist with technical engineering. Additionally, MOI-MAG works with the Saudi special security forces, general services aviation command and border guards.
FSF-TAG is headquartered in Saudi Arabia and was created from a 2008 agreement between then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Saudi Arabia's Minister of Interior Nayif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud after a failed terrorist attack attempted by al-Qaeda on Feb. 24, 2006, which targeted the Abqaiq oil processing facility. The program, or foreign military sales case, was renewed in 2013 for another 10 years by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, extending the program through 2023.
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