THE fifth estate: A State of Denial
Prison in Saudi Arabia> Printer Version
December 11th, 2002
RE-CREATING THE PRISON CELL
prison, where Bill Sampson is being held .
For the past two years, Canadian William Sampson
has been locked in a padded room about 6 metres long. His food appears
through a hatch in the door, a concrete slab serves as a bed and fluorescent
lights beat down on him 24 hours a day. The cell guarantees him unrelenting
isolation and the looming possibility of a public beheading. This is life
inside the Al Hayer prison. (read more about Saudi
fifth estate decided to recreate Sampson’s time in Al Hayer, his
jail cell became integral to the story. Descriptions of the cell were
provided by Ron Jones (read more about Ron Jones),
who was held in Al Hayer for 67 days and is interviewed in “State
of Denial.” Sampson is not allowed a pen or paper, and there is
no written record of his time in prison. In fact, no one outside the prison
even knows what happened to Sampson during his first year there, and the
only photographic evidence that has been released was his taped confession.
of a Saudi jail.
So with Jones’s description and his schematic diagram as starting
points, CBC crews constructed a three-walled space that approximated the
look and feel of a cell deep in the Saudi desert. Two large lamps substituted
for the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting. Small details unique to the
cell, such as a mirror and a security camera, were included, although the
odd touch of an unused television was not. Sampson’s cell contains
no personal belongings and he is not allowed any reading material. (see
more pictures of the cell)
the picture, an actor was used to re-enact the claustrophobic routine
of a person in isolation. Dressed in a robe and sandals, the actor was
shot pacing around the cell (Sampson himself walks about 10 km a day),
sleeping and disrobing. These scenes were then incorporated into the final
documentary, giving viewers a rare glimpse of life inside a Saudi jail.
The Bomb in Riyadh
Ron Jones, like many other Westerners working in Saudi Arabia, enjoyed
a sumptuous lifestyle where he worked hard but was paid well. A tax accountant
working for a big Saudi company, he obeyed the rules, he didn't drink,
and lived quietly.
It had came to an abrupt end on March 15, 2000 as he stood outside a bookstore
in downtown Riyadh, "Something happened. I don't know what it was...and
I was thrown. I don't remember anything after that until I woke up in
an ambulance and I had been scorched down the left side of my body."
Somebody had set off a car bomb - one of many similar attacks on Westerners
living in Saudi Arabia.
The police came
to the hospital to ask him some questions but Ron Jones knew nothing about
bombs and politics. He had only been in the country for about six months.
Then the police offered to drive him home. "I noticed that we were
going in the opposite directions to where I lived...And we came to this
big wall." They drove past armed guards and into a large compound.
As the police led him to a bare cell (see
Ron's recollection of the cell) he knew something was very wrong.
wall outside the compound where Ron Jones was held.
Inside the Saudi Prison
"They handcuffed me and then they made me sit on the floor and they
shackled my feet...I said, Why? And he (the guard) said just lift up your
feet and he just swung this cane onto the soles of my feet...And he did
it again and the pain was absolutely excruciating. He said, 'Now you will
tell me the truth'."
Ron was taken
to the Mabaheth Interrogation Centre in Riyadh. Once you enter the gates
you're presumed guilty.
"And the more I screamed the more they'd hit. They would make me
hold my hands out, lift my own feet up, while they beat them with canes
about four feet long. They would make me kneel in a corner with the soles
of my feet facing outwards and beat them with pick axe handles. They would
leave me in rooms blindfolded and shackled. They would spin me around
in a chair while I was blindfolded and whack me round the head. They threatened
they would kill me."
This method of torture is known as Falanga. The victim is beaten on the
soles of his feet with blunt instruments so there are no long term physical
signs of torture.
In his cell Ron would hear screams of others being tortured, "It
was awful because you knew what they were going through. And you knew
it was your turn next."
Ron remembers one man who subjected him to a severe beating. "He
wasn't caring where he hit me. It was wherever the blow landed. And then
he started to sing. But he was singing and the blows got fiercer and it
actually knocked my blindfold off slightly and I could see him out of
the corner of my eye and he was smiling." (see
a sketch of Ron's torturer)
"And I remember saying, I'll tell you anything you want, just don't
hit me again." He signed a confession.
Second Team of Interrogators
returned home, his pay had stopped and there was no apology given.
After Ron Jones had been in prison for six weeks, a second team of interrogators
showed up. They believed him when he said he was innocent and they believed
his stories of beatings and abuse. They gave him a statement to sign which
would eventually secure his release.
"The Statement was that I had to apologize to the Saudi government,
the Saudi King and the Saudi people for lying and confessing to a bombing
that I hadn't committed. And the only reason that I had confessed to those
bombings was that I couldn't stand being in solitary confinement."
Three weeks later, after his injuries had healed, the authorities let
Saud al Faisal insists that Westerners are not being tortured in
Once he returned to England
he told his story of abuse. And he traveled to the Parker Institute in Copenhagen,
a leading centre for the diagnosis of torture. There doctors examined his
feet with ultrasound technology to see if there was an lasting damage under
the skin. Their tests revealed that he had been tortured on both his feet
and hands, severely, and for a long time.
The diagnosis was confirmed by British pathologists.
But Saudi's Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal remains adament that
the stories of torture are false. "I don't care what the so-called
experts say. I know what is happening in my government, and I know what
instructions all officers in the government have about torture and things
Goldsmith and his wife spent six weeks
in a Saudi jail.
and his wife Annie were arrested outside their villa.
"Two cars drove up, six or seven big guys got out, they grabbed me.
two or three of them went into my villa because the gate was open and
a few minutes later, they dragged my wife out."
"I wasn't sure whether they would release me at that point because
I knew they'd found some alcohol in my house."
Hawkins spent a year in a Saudi jail.
Hawkins was arrested after a car bomb went off outside his bar.
"I was asked to look at photographs to see if I could identify anybody
who'd been hanging around the bars or who was suspicious. I went to do
that and that was the end of my freedom. There was no formal arrest, there
was no reading of rights. You were just thrown in a cell."
"They accused me of making the bomb, planting the bomb and setting
the bomb off. They claimed I had all the chemicals necessary to make the
bomb in my kitchen."
"They threatened other things, violence, attacks on my wife."
O'Nions is serving eight years in prison. His wife, Mary recalls
O'Nions is still in jail.
"They just came in droves. It looked like a band of Osama Bin Laden.
They knocked his teeth loose, they fractured his ribs. He was actually terrified
they were going to kill him."
fifth estate : A State of Denial
Bill Sampson Story - Inside a Saudi Prison
- Justice in Saudi Arabia
Resources - Update
Broadcast December 11, 2002 on CBC
News: the fifth
UPDATED in October 2004