HSE University Anti-Corruption Portal
Saudi Arabia Adopts a Law on Protection of Whistleblowers
Natalia Gorbacheva, Vladislava Ozhereleva

Saudi Arabia has adopted a legal act introducing the right of whistleblowers* to protection.

Status of whistleblower and right to protection

Under Law of 18 February 2024 “On the System of Protection of Reporting Persons, Witnesses, Experts and Victims” (نظام حماية المبلغين والشهود والخبراء والضحايا) adopted by Royal Decree No. M/148 and entering into force on 28 June 2024, a whistleblower is a person who voluntarily discloses information and/or provides evidence that allows for assuming that a crime has been, is being or can be committed or points at the persons involved in a crime.

If there is a risk that the whistleblower or his/her associates can be subject to retaliation in relation to the disclosure, the individual can seek protection.

The following persons are entitled to protection:

  • Whistleblower;
  • Spouse of the whistleblower;
  • Relatives of the whistleblowers;
  • Other persons closely related to the whistleblower.

The retaliation from which protection for the above-listed persons may be needed includes:

  • Dismissal;
  • Adoption of any decisions with regard to the whistleblower (his/her associates) that change his/her legal or administrative status, lead to the restriction or his/her deprivation of rights, distortion of his/her status, and tarnish his/her reputation;
  • Any forms of influence in the workplace, adoption of measures of disciplinary liability, and filing of lawsuits against the whistleblower.

The burden of proof to justify these measures rests with the employer.

Procedure for providing protection

In order to ensure that whistleblowers exercise their right to protection, a Centre for Protection of Reporting Persons, Witnesses, Experts and Victims is established in the Prosecutor-General’s Office. The body is entitled to process the requests for protection, adopt decisions on the necessary protection measures based on the latter and implement these decisions in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior and the Presidency of State Security.

Protection is granted by the Centre based on:

  • A motivated request for protection filed by the whistleblower;
  • Submission of a supported conclusion about the need to protect the whistleblower by a judicial, law enforcement and/or other competent body.

If there are grounds to believe that the whistleblower is in danger, the Prosecutor-General can make the decision to provide him/her with protection with no respective request for up to 30 days with the possibility of renewal.

In considering the requests of whistleblowers for protection, the competent body must take into consideration:

  • Justification for providing the whistleblower with protection, including (non) commission of offences by the whistleblower in the past and his/her psychological evaluation;
  • Character of the threat that the whistleblower faces;
  • Character and the level of threat of the offence disclosed by the whistleblower;
  • Probability of capacity of the individual requesting protection to adapt to the measures that can be taken to protect him/her;
  • Alternative ways to eliminate the threat for the whistleblower;
  • Other factors that should be taken into consideration in every single case.

Measures to protect whistleblowers

Protection of whistleblowers and other persons can include:

  • Concealment, if necessary and/or at the request of the whistleblower, of the information about the personal data of the whistleblower in documents and on other information carriers to prevent his/her identification, prohibition to disclose either directly or indirectly, of any information the use of which can subsequently damage the whistleblower;
  • Prohibition of criminal prosecution of the whistleblower because of the disclosure, except for the cases where the report was filed in bad faith or with gross negligence, as well as in the event that it contained knowingly false information;
  • Provision of personal security, in particular, security escort and home protection;
  • Movement to a different workplace in cooperation with the employer on a temporary or permanent basis;
  • Assistance in employment to a different job, termination in the previous job;
  • Provision of legal, psychological, social and financial assistance;
  • Possibility to immediately inform about any threat to the whistleblower, his/her spouse or any of his/her close relatives;
  • Change of phone numbers;
  • Change of place of residence on a temporary or permanent basis;
  • Possibility to report information with the use of technologies allowing for modifying the voice and conceal the facial features;
  • Prohibition of retaliation against the whistleblower;
  • Other appropriate protection measures.

Liability measures

The Law also contains the provisions on liability for failure to comply with the established requirements, in particular:

  • Direct or indirect disclosure of any information, the use of which can subsequently inflict damage to the whistleblower, failure to provide/obstruction of provision of protection to the whistleblower is punishable with imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of 200,000 SR (roughly 53,200 USD);
  • Use of violence against the whistleblower also with the aim to prevent the disclosure is punishable by imprisonment of up to three years and/or a fine of up to 500,000 SR (around 133,200 USD);
  • Obstruction of disclosure of the offence by the use of threats, blackmailing, bribery of the whistleblower is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine of up to 300,000 SR (roughly 80,000 USD);
  • Retaliation against the whistleblower is punishable by imprisonment of up to six months and/or a fine of up to 100,000 SR (around 27,000 USD);
  • Use of violence against the whistleblower, obstruction of provision of protection to the whistleblower and/or obstruction of disclosure of the offence by the use of threats, blackmailing, bribery of the whistleblower by the head and/or an employee of a private company in the interest of such company is punishable by a fine of up to 5,000,000 SR (roughly 1,300,000 USD) and/or the prohibition to conclude public contracts for up to five years for the company;
  • Complicity, aiding and abetting in the commission of the abovementioned offences are punishable in the same way as the main offence.

Additionally, the Law introduces the possibility to confiscate, following the court decision, the instrumentalities and proceeds of the crime, as well as recovery of the full amount of expenses allocated to the protection of the whistleblower in the event that the report of the crime was made in bad faith and with gross negligence, and contained knowingly false information.

*The provisions of the Law are applicable not only to the persons reporting crimes but also to the witnesses, experts and victims.

Corruption whistleblowers

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