Except for the machine guns and guard towers, the al-Hair high-security prison looks remarkably like a hotel — especially the conjugal-visit wing.
Beyond a heavy iron gate, its bars painted a cheerful lavender, a red carpet stretches the length of a long hallway, where each of the 38 private cells has a queen-size bed, a fridge, a television and a shower.
Here, just around the corner from the prison ATM, married inmates are allowed to spend three to five private hours with their wives at least once a month, with fresh linens and tea and sweets on the nightstand.
Nearly 1,100 high-security prisoners, all of them jailed on terrorism-related charges, are serving time in this prison a few miles south of Riyadh. Al-Hair is the largest of five high-security Saudi prisons established in the past decade to deal with a growing terrorism threat, first from al-Qaeda and more recently from the Islamic State.[Read: The facts — and few myths — about Saudi Arabia’s human rights]
Saudi prisons long have been largely off-limits to journalists and human rights monitors. But officials said Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, the deputy crown prince, has ordered that journalists be allowed to visit, hoping to refute allegations from human rights groups that Saudi Arabia tortures prisoners.