Amnesty International has uncovered new testimonies detailing the torture and ill-treatment of a group of Saudi Arabian human rights activists, who have been arbitrarily detained since May 2018.
In a statement yesterday, Amnesty indicated that the testimonies were consistent with similar testimonies given in November 2018 about the torture of a number of activists. It also highlighted the urgent need to allow independent observers to access to the detention centre where the activists are being held to investigate the allegations.
According to the new testimonies, a group of ten human rights activists were subjected to torture and sexual abuse, as well as other forms of ill-treatment, during the first three months of their detention when they were held in an informal detention centre at an unknown location.
“One of the interrogators told one of the female activists falsely that her family members had died and made her believe it for one month,” one testimony reveals.
In another account, a male and a female activist were forced to kiss each other on the lips while the interrogators watched them. One female activist said that interrogators poured water into her mouth as she screamed while she was tortured.
Other male and female activists said that they were tortured with electric shocks.
Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International, Lynn Maalouf, said that “we are deeply concerned about the safety of these activists arbitrarily detained for almost nine months simply because of their defence of human rights”.
She added: “The Saudi authorities have repeatedly shown that they are unwilling to effectively protect detainees from torture or to conduct impartial investigations into allegations of torture in detention centres.”
“For this reason, we call on the Saudi authorities to allow independent oversight bodies access to detained activists immediately and without restrictions,” she concluded.
In November, Amnesty documented how activists detained arbitrarily since May 2018 – among them a number of women – have been tortured with electric shocks and constant flogging, resulting in the inability of some to walk or stand properly. The new testimonies show that more activists have been subjected to this type of torture.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also called for access to detainees in the Kingdom.
HRW said that the Human Rights Commission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – a government body – and the Attorney-General “are not independent [enough] to conduct a serious and transparent investigation.”
Middle East Deputy Director at HRW, Michael Page, said that “internal investigations in Saudi Arabia have little chance of knowing the truth about the treatment of detainees, including prominent figures, or holding anyone responsible for crimes accountable.”
He added: “If Saudi Arabia really wants to know what has happened and hold the aggressors accountable, it must allow independent access to these detainees.”
In December, Amnesty sent a letter to the Saudi authorities requesting that independent oversight bodies, including international organisations, be allowed access to human rights defenders, but the organisation has not yet received a response The Saudi Ministry of Media, however, denied these allegations and described them as “baseless”.
Many of the activists who were arbitrarily detained in the May 2018 crackdown remain in detention without charge and without legal representation. News of the torture of male and female activists has spread following international outrage over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on 2 October.