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Saudi man beats servant
02:39 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Amateur video apparently shows a Saudi man berating and beating a migrant worker

The man appears to be angry because he thinks the worker has spoken to his wife

Saudi government-backed Human Rights Commission says it's investigating the video

Rights groups have documented widespread abuse of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video, but 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.

In July, the rights group issued a statement saying that “many suffer multiple abuses and labor exploitation, sometimes amounting to slavery-like conditions.”

“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.

According to Khan, many migrant workers are asked to surrender their passports upon entering countries in the Middle East, which can make them vulnerable to abuse.

“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.”

Adds Khan, “what is lacking in the Middle East and many of these countries is that the workers don’t have representation.”

Rights activists say the problem is getting worse.

Toward the end of the video, the real brutality begins.

“Sit down! Kneel down!” yells the Saudi man, as he begins to flog the victim with a belt. Standing above him, the Saudi man also repeatedly slaps and kicks the worker.

The screams of “no” are bloodcurdling. Before the end of the nearly two-minute video, the Saudi man asks the worker if he wants to die.

Many are asking if the beating went on and what happened to the victim afterward. Apparently, like the fate of so many abused and forgotten foreign workers, for now, hardly anyone knows.

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