Skip to main content

British MPs and lawyers make request to visit 'tortured' Saudi activists

Request made to visit detained female human rights activists at the Dhahban prison near Jeddah to investigate claims they are being abused
The mistreatment took place at Dhahban prison in Jeddah, Amnesty International says (AFP/File photo)

A cross-party group of British politicians and international lawyers has requested to visit detained female human rights activists in Saudi Arabia to investigate claims that they are being tortured.

Several activists have been subjected to torture, sexual harassment and other inhumane treatment at the Dhahban prison near Jeddah, Amnesty International said in November.

In a letter to the Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom, MP Crispin Blunt, the head of the group's detention review panel, has asked for assistance in arranging a visit to Dhahban prison near Jeddah to speak to the activists held there.

"We hope to be able to gather direct testimony from the detainees during our visit in Saudi Arabia," Blunt wrote on Wednesday.

The review panel consists of ITN solicitors, as represented by the firm's partner Tayab Ali, Dr Tim Moloney QC, the deputy head of Doughty Street Chambers, Layla Moran MP and Paul Williams MP.

Blunt said the group wanted to also "meet and interview officials responsible for and tasked" with the activists' imprisonment.

Citing three separate testimonies, Amnesty International said the activists, some of whom are women, were tortured by electrocution and flogging, which left "some unable to walk or stand properly".

The mistreatment occurred inside Dhahban prison, Amnesty said, against activists who have been detained without charge since May.

In November, Saudi Arabia dismissed the reports of torture as "baseless," calling them "simply wrong".

Hung from the ceiling

According to the testimonies, Amnesty said one activist was forced to hang from the ceiling, while one of the detained women was subjected to sexual harassment "by interrogators wearing face masks".

The human rights activists exhibited medical issues as a result of their mistreatment in detention, Amnesty reported, including an uncontrolled shaking of the hands and marks on their bodies.

One of the detained female activists has also tried to commit suicide multiple times, Amnesty said.

Several Saudi human rights advocates were detained in May as the Saudi government sought to stifle dissenting voices in the Gulf kingdom.

The arrests followed an earlier crackdown on clerics, intellectuals, and activists in September 2017 in an apparent bid to silence potential opponents of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, also known as MBS.

"The allegations made and recorded by these human rights advocates are extremely damaging to the credibility of the progressive reforms announced recently by the Saudi Arabian government," the letter to the Saudi ambassador said.

The detention review panel's letter went on to say that following the panel's review, they would be able to support Saudi Arabia in "regaining confidence from the international community that its commitment to progressive reform and the protection of the rights of peaceful pro-reform activists is both credible and sincere".

The group requested the Saudi ambassador to respond by 9 January "in light of the urgency of this matter".

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.