Skip to main content

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul 'offered release if she denies torture'

Authorities offer to free prominent women's rights campaigner if she appears on video refuting allegations of abuse, her siblings say
Loujain al-Hathloul's family says she has been subject to torture and sexual abuse by Saudi authorities (Reuters)

The siblings of Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi rights activist detained and allegedly abused by authorities in the kingdom, have said she has been offered her release in return for denying she has been tortured.

Hathloul, 29, is a prominent advocate for women's rights in the kingdom, which is notorious for the restrictions it places upon women.

She was apprehended in the United Arab Emirates in April and deported to Saudi Arabia, where she was arrested soon after alongside several other women rights activists.

Her family have said she has been subject to torture and sexual abuse while in prison. But on Tuesday, her brother and two sisters alleged Saudi authorities had offered her a deal in return for her release.

'They have asked her to sign on a document where she will appear on video to deny the torture and harassment. That was part of a deal to release her'

- Walid al-Hathloul, Loujain's brother

"Saudi State Security has visited my sister in prison recently," Walid al-Hathloul, her brother, said on Twitter.

"They have asked her to sign on a document where she will appear on video to deny the torture and harassment. That was part of a deal to release her."

Hathloul's brother said authorities had recently visited her in prison three times in an attempt to broker the deal. During the first two visits, he said, authorities pressed her to sign a document denying the abuse.

The activist was prepared to do this, Walid said, and her family kept quiet about the negotiations so as not to jeopardise them.

However, during a third visit, she was urged to appear in a video denying she was tortured, which Walid said did not appear to be "a realistic demand".

Lina al-Hathloul, her sister, also alleged the activist had been offered the deal.

In a tweet, Lina said she worried her sister would be endangered by the deal's exposure, but she could not keep it to herself.

"Loujain has been brutally tortured and sexually harassed," Lina tweeted.

Another sister, Alia, urged Hathloul to accept whatever demands the authorities had.

"Accept the show and deny what happened, even if you recorded it in audio and video," Alia tweeted.

"What is important is that you are with us, I miss you."

The two women drivers blazing the trail for freedom of movement in Saudi
Read More »

Hathloul's siblings all live abroad and campaign for her release.

Her brother has previously said that she has been electrocuted, whipped and beaten. The activist has reportedly also been subjected to sexual harassment and "verbal sexual abuse" in detention.

Last year, Human Rights Watch said interrogators had tortured at least three of the women rights activists swept up in the kingdom's crackdown last year.

The activists' arrests came weeks before the much-publicised lifting of Saudi Arabia's driving ban in June 2018 - a right many of them had long championed.

Hathloul has been charged with "coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom". She was put on trial alongside 10 other activists, seven of which have been released on bail.

Cutting a deal

The deal offered to Hathloul is reminiscent of another offer given to the heirs of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Last week, Middle East Eye revealed that Salah Khashoggi, the MEE and Washington Post columnist’s son, was urged to release a statement denying payments made in the wake of his father's assassination were an admission of guilt by the kingdom's rulers.

Saudi men and women are now equal - when it comes to prison torture
Read More »

Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by a team of Saudi operatives in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul. The CIA and a UN investigation have said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was almost certainly responsible for the murder.

One of the crown prince's top aides, Saud al-Qahtani, widely believed to be the mastermind behind Khashoggi’s murder, is alleged to have overseen Hathloul’s torture.

"He sat in on one of the sessions. He told her: 'I'll kill you, cut you into pieces, throw you in the sewer system. But before that, I’ll rape you,'" Walid al-Hathloul told the Guardian in May.

On Tuesday, Walid said on Twitter that his sister told a Saudi security officer that the offer to leave prison on condition she denies her mistreatment aimed to protect Qahtani.

"When the government security officer asked Loujain to sign an agreement to leave prison by recording herself denying [the] torture, Loujain tore up the agreement and handed it to him and told him, 'By doing this, you are supporting Saud al-Qahtani, who was behind my torture,'" Walid tweeted.

The Hathloul family’s revelations come as Riyadh says it is beginning to ease travel restrictions on women.

Hathloul was a noticeable critic of the kingdom’s restrictions, which include the right to travel without permission, obtain a passport and register childbirth, marriage or divorce.