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Saudi official questions authenticity of video beating

By Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
updated 11:08 AM EST, Wed November 6, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "There is no proof this is real yet," says Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman
  • Amateur video apparently shows a Saudi man berating and beating a migrant worker
  • Saudi government-backed Human Rights Commission says it's investigating
  • Rights groups have documented widespread abuse of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

(CNN) -- More than a week after a video showing what appears to be a Saudi man beating a migrant worker was posted on the Internet, a government official questioned its authenticity.

"There is no proof this is real yet," said Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "The police are still investigating and trying to verify the video clip."

The video, which was posted October 27 to YouTube, had received more than 127,000 views by Tuesday.

In a telephone interview with CNN, Al-Turki called on anyone with knowledge of the video to contact authorities.

"Nobody has actually reported this incident to the police yet," he said. "And nobody has come to police claiming to be a victim of the abuse."

In addition, he said, no evidence has emerged to indicate that the incident occurred in Saudi Arabia or involved a Saudi. "Just because it may seem to be a Saudi man in the clip doesn't mean that it actually is a Saudi," he said.

In the one-minute and 53-second video, a man wearing an orange jumpsuit, his right eye swollen, appears seated on the floor of a room as another man -- dressed in white -- yells at him, initially striking him in the head with his open hand.

A shaky video shot by someone out of camera view documents the incident.

Government officials told CNN last week they believed the aggressor was a Saudi man who was angry because he thought the man in orange -- perhaps a worker -- had spoken to his wife.

"Why did you come here when she was here?" he asks in what sounds like Saudi-accented Arabic.

"I swear I didn't mean it," pleads the man, whose clothes and accent appear to be those of a migrant laborer, adding, "I swear to God I didn't know."

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As the questioning continues, the man in white -- slapping his victim -- demands to know why he would dare contact his wife. The slapping then grows in ferocity to include kicks and blows to the head and body with what appears to be a leather strap or belt.

"Sit down! Kneel down!" yells the man as the flogging continues. He then asks the victim if he wants to die.

"No!" the man screams.

Officials said they did not know where the incident took place, but were investigating.

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The Saudi government-backed Human Rights Commission has condemned the incident.

"We are taking this very seriously and are looking into it with Saudi security," said the commission's Mohammed Al-Madi. "We are doing our utmost to ensure the accused abuser is arrested and tried. We are also doing everything we can to find the abused man, so that we can help him in any way."

Another Saudi government-backed human rights group, the National Society for Human Rights, is also investigating.

"We don't know where it took place, but it is under investigation and we'll release details in a few days' time," said Mifleh Al-Qahtani, president of the society, last week.

The incident is not unique. Global human rights groups have documented widespread abuse of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 9 million migrants work in Saudi Arabia, making up more than half the work force.

"Many suffer multiple abuses and labor exploitation, sometimes amounting to slavery-like conditions," the rights group said in July.

"The kafala, or sponsorship, system ties migrant workers' residency permits to 'sponsoring' employers, whose written consent is required for workers to change employers or leave the country," the rights group said. "Employers often abuse this power in violation of Saudi law to confiscate passports, withhold wages and force migrants to work against their will or on exploitative terms."

Human Rights Watch Saudi researcher Adam Coogle said that "Saudi Arabia needs to get serious about protecting migrant workers by providing adequate avenues to justice and mechanisms of redress."

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Migrant laborers elsewhere in the Middle East face similar problems.

"Nobody can come into the Arab states or in the Middle East without a sponsor," says Azfar Khan, with the International Labor Organization. Migrant workers are routinely asked to surrender their passports, which can leave them vulnerable to abuse, he said.

"When the employer has that kind of power, then they can dictate the working conditions," Khan said. "Whether it's a question of the wage rates, whether it's a question of the work time."

Rights activists say the problem is getting worse.

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