King Abdullah on Monday approved the creation of what the government called "an independent human rights commission," the minister of information and culture said.
Ayad Madani said the commission would aim to uphold civil rights in the country "in the light of Islamic sharia laws." The decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting chaired by the king.
Saudi Arabia, which has taken small steps toward democratic government in the past year, has frequently been accused of violating human rights. Recently the authorities imprisoned four activists who criticized the strict religious environment in the country. The king pardoned them last month.
The minister said the king would appoint the head of the commission and its 18 other members. He added the commission "will be totally independent in exercising its task."
The kingdom has no elected parliament, its media are closely controlled, and international rights groups say its courts do not meet world standards of due process. Earlier this year it had its first nationwide elections for municipal councils, AP reported.