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Saudi ignores UK demand to visit detained women activists

Prison cells [File photo]
Prison cells [File photo]

Saudi Arabia has ignored calls by British parliamentarians and lawyers to allow a delegation to visit Saudi female activists held in prison, following allegations of torture during their detention.

The Detention Review Panel (DRP), led by British MP Crispin Blunt, requested earlier this month that they be allowed to visit eight female activists held in Dhahban Prison, located north of Jeddah on the country’s west coast, to ascertain their health conditions and reason for their detention.

Despite stipulating a deadline of 9 January to answer their request, Saudi authorities in London have issued no response.

“We are disappointed that the Saudi Arabian government has not responded to the Panel’s request for a visit. The opportunity for Saudi Arabia to allow the DRP members to visit the detainees remains open,” Tayab Ali, partner of ITN solicitors and DRP Legal Secretariat and Rapporteur said.

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“Our panel remains committed to visiting the Saudi women activists and three of their male supporters detained in Saudi Arabia in order to thoroughly investigate these allegations. At this stage we continue to await a response from the Saudi Arabian government,” Blunt said of the news.

“We remain hopeful that the Saudi authorities will see the opportunity our Review provides for Saudi Arabia to present its case and any changes in policy towards civil society activists”.

In the letter sent to Saudi officials, the DRP detailed the various 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.

“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,” Blunt concluded.

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The news comes amid growing concern over the fate of female activists arrested last year, with their family members suggesting they have also endured sexual assault. Last week, the London-based Al-Qst Human Rights Organisation revealed shocking details of one woman’s experience, detailing how she was deliberately filmed naked by her captors, who then used the images against her during her interrogation.

Incidents of torture in Saudi prisons are well known; last month, Saudi writer Reem Sulaiman revealed that she had considered suicide during her detention due to the torture that she claims was inflicted upon her. 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 the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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