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Loujain al-Hathloul (Amnesty International)

Women's rights

Allegations of torture of Saudi activists sparks scrutiny by lawmakers

By WITW Staff on January 3, 2019

A group of British lawmakers have penned an open letter to Saudi officials, raising concerns over jailed women’s rights activists, following allegations they have been subjected to torture and sexual assault while in detention.

More than a dozen activists were imprisoned last May, just ahead of Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving being lifted. Many of them were prominent campaigners for the new rights. Although some were released without charge, at least eight women and several male supporters remain in prison. All have been denied access to lawyers, and at least three of the women have been tortured and sexually assaulted, according to reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The cross-party panel of lawmakers and advocates requested, in an open letter to the Saudi ambassador to the U.K., Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz, that they be permitted to visit the women activists in Dhahban prison to check on their condition.

“No person should be subjected to the type of treatment that has allegedly been inflicted upon these women activists while in detention,” wrote Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who chairs the panel. “The implications of activists being detained and tortured for exercising their freedom of speech and conducting peaceful campaigns is concerning for all individuals seeking to exercise their human rights in Saudi Arabia.”

Among those detained were women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Saada, and Hatoon al-Fassi. Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, a lawyer; Abdulaziz Meshaal, a philanthropist, and Mohammed Rabea, a social activist, were also detained because of their unerring support for women’s equality.

Since being detained, a number of the activists have been “repeatedly tortured by electrocution and flogging, leaving some unable to walk or stand properly,” according to a report by Amnesty International.

“In one reported instance, one of the activists was made to hang from the ceiling, and according to another testimony, one of the detained women was reportedly subjected to sexual harassment, by interrogators wearing face masks,” the report added.

A Human Rights Watch report said: “At least three women were subjected to sexual harassment and assault, including forced hugging and kissing and exposure to sexually suggestive gestures.”

Saudi Arabia has denied the allegations of torture, saying: “These recent reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are baseless.”

Read the full story at The Independent.

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