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British MPs ask to visit detained Saudi women activists

January 2, 2019 at 5:57 pm

British MPs have today requested the Saudi Authorities for permission to visit female activists detained in the Kingdom. The request has been made following allegations of torture by human rights organisations.

A cross-party group of MPs, together with some international lawyers, have submitted a request that they be allowed to visit female activists held in Dhahban Prison, located north of Jeddah on the country’s west coast. Forming the “Detention Review Panel”, the group intends to investigate allegations that female detainees have been tortured and denied access to lawyers or their family members.

The request was submitted today in a letter to the Saudi Ambassador in London, Prince Mohammed Bin Nawwaf Bin Abdulaziz. “You will be aware that there have been some very serious allegations made about the treatment of Women Activist Detainees in Saudi Arabia,” the MPs and lawyers told the ambassador. “The allegations, recorded by human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, appear to be credible, but we acknowledge that the Saudi Arabian government says that the allegations are unfounded.”

The letter goes on to detail the myriad ways in which the women are alleged to have been tortured, including being subjected to electric shocks, being tied to a bed and whipped with an “egal” (a cord used to secure traditional Gulf headdresses), and being threatened with rape.

READ: Saudi Arabia denies human rights abuses

The chair of the Detention Review Panel is Conservative MP Crispin Blunt. He plans to lead the delegation’s visit to Saudi Arabia should permission be granted.

“No person should be subjected to the type of treatment that has allegedly been inflicted upon these women activists while in detention,” said Blunt. “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.”

He pointed out that the group is conscious that the panel meets at a time of “unprecedented scrutiny” of Saudi Arabia’s affairs. This was, no doubt, a reference to the increased international attention on the Kingdom’s conduct in the wake of October’s brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Even so, allegations of Saudi Arabia’s torture of detainees are nothing new. In December, Saudi writer Reem Sulaiman revealed that she had considered suicide during her detention due to the torture that she claims was inflicted upon her. “When I was in prison,” wrote Sulaiman on Twitter, “I had images of all the female activists who were threatened with sexual harassment, whipped and subjected to electric shocks […] I considered suicide because of all I went through.”

She believes that she was arrested and tortured on the orders of Saud Al-Qahtani, a former advisor to Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Three separate sources have claimed that Al-Qahtani personally oversaw the torture of several women at the hands of a group of six male interrogators. Al-Qahtani was sanctioned by the US in October for his alleged role in Khashoggi’s murder.

Earlier in December, the Francophone Paris Institute for Freedoms disclosed that it had received a shocking oral testimony of systematic torture endured by Shaden Khalid Al-Anzi, a student at the Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Al-Anzi has been detained for seven months without charge and alleges that she has been subjected to physical and psychological torture, including electric shocks.

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