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British MPs: Saudi women activists held in sub-standard conditions

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

A group of British MPs has found that the treatment of female activists imprisoned in Saudi Arabia is below international standards and could meet the threshold for torture.

The Detention Review Panel (DRP) – a cross party group of British parliamentarians and lawyers – said in a press release today that Saudi authorities at the highest levels could be responsible for the torture of the female detainees, who were arrested in the kingdom last year.

“Our conclusions are stark. The Saudi women activist detainees have been treated so badly as to sustain an international investigation for torture. Denied proper access to medical care, legal advice or visits from their families, their solitary confinement and mistreatment are severe enough to meet the international definition of torture. The supervisory chain of command up to the highest levels of Saudi authority would be responsible for this,” DRP Chair, Crispin Blunt MP, said.

The DRP requested last 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, Saudi authorities in London ignored the request, prompting the group to pursue their inquiries independently.

There has been growing concern over the fate of the female activists arrested last year, with a previous DRP report confirming that the women have endured various forms of torture including sexual assault.

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Last month 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; 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. 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 also 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.

The DRP has called on Saudi Arabia to immediately release the female detainees, give them access to international organisations and start an investigation into the allegations of mistreatment.

“We continue to hope that the Saudi authorities see this as an opportunity to recognise and address the contradictions in the treatment of the detainees and claimed aspirations for the future of Saudi Arabia. Vision 2030 will never be delivered if the people who could help deliver it are treated in this appalling manner,” Blunt concluded.

The DRP was established in 2018 and published its first report reviewing the detention and treatment of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who remains in prison despite deteriorating health.

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