Several women’s rights activists who have been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for more than six months have been subjected to psychological or physical abuse while in custody, the Washington Post has reported. The abuse is alleged to include sleep deprivation and beatings reported.
Citing four people familiar with the conditions of the activists’ detention, the Post said that some of the abuse occurred during interrogations in which several of the women were given electric shocks or flogged. Other women are said to have displayed what witnesses said were signs of abuse, including uncontrollable shaking or difficulty standing.
Families are said to be reluctant to repeat what they hear from the detainees during prison visits, fearing retaliation by the Saudi authorities. However, the four people who spoke under conditions of anonymity revealed details of the abuse faced by detainees.
A Saudi official who was asked to comment on the allegations also spoke on condition of anonymity and said: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s judiciary system does not condone, promote or allow the use of torture. Anyone, whether male or female, being investigated is going through the standard judiciary process led by the public prosecution while being held for questioning, which does not in any way rely on torture, either physical, sexual or psychological.”
In addition to the beatings and electric shocks, at least one prisoner is reported to have been hanged from the ceiling during an interrogation. Another prisoner was told, falsely, that a relative had been killed. A third inmate has attempted suicide several times, it was claimed.
Many of the women were arrested during Riyadh’s campaign against activists that began last May. In addition to the crackdown on senior clerics in the country, several women were arrested, including Walaa Saeed Al-Shubbar, a nurse and activist known for her support for victims of domestic violence and female inmates. Amnesty said that the Saudi authorities had detained activists who defended women’s right to drive — Loujain Al-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan, and Aziza Al-Yousef — for more than 100 days with neither charge nor trial.
Yesterday, the rights group which has monitored the fate of Saudi women activists closely said that a number of them who have been detained arbitrarily without charge since May have reportedly faced sexual harassment, torture and other forms of ill-treatment during interrogation in Saudi Arabia’s Dhahban Prison.
Reacting to reports of abuse and torture, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director said, “Only a few weeks after the ruthless killing of Jamal Khashoggi, these shocking reports of torture, sexual harassment and other forms of ill-treatment, if verified, expose further outrageous human rights violations by the Saudi authorities.”
The authorities, she added, are directly responsible for the wellbeing of these women and men in detention. “[However,] not only have they been depriving them of their liberty for months now, simply for peacefully expressing their views, they are also subjecting them to horrendous physical suffering.”