USCIRF Releases New Factsheet on Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court

Dec 2, 2021

USCIRF Releases New Factsheet on Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court

Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today released the following new report on Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) and its particular targeting of individuals who seek to exercise their freedom of religion or belief:

Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court Factsheet - While originally created to clear a backlog of terrorism cases, the SCC now regularly tries members of religious minority groups and individuals who dissent peacefully from the Saudi government’s singular interpretation of Hanbali Sunni Islam. These individuals have been denied access to legal representation, held in prolonged detention, reportedly tortured into confessing, and given excessive sentences including the death penalty. The factsheet details several such cases, including that of Waleed Abu el-Khair, the lawyer of USCIRF religious prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi. The factsheet recommends that the Biden administration determine whether the court and its officials are subject to sanctions or visa bans as a result of these egregious religious freedom violations, and continue to advocate publicly for freedom of religion or belief in Saudi Arabia.

USCIRF recently discussed reforms to select polices impacting religious freedom in Saudi Arabia on an episode of the USCIRF Spotlight Podcast. In its 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended the State Department re-designate Saudi Arabia as a “Country of Particular Concern,” or CPC, for systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations. In November 2021, the State Department re-designated Saudi Arabia as a CPC but issued a national security waiver exempting the country from otherwise legislatively mandated action as a result of the designation.


The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at