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Riyadh fails to respond to British MPs request to visit 'tortured' Saudi activists

Cross-party group says remains committed to visiting women activists held in Jeddah jail 'in order to thoroughly investigate these allegations'
The mistreatment took place at Dhahban prison in Jeddah, Amnesty International says (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia has failed to respond to a request from a cross-party group of British politicians and international lawyers 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 on 2 January, MP Crispin Blunt, the head of the group's Detention Review Panel (DRP), had asked for assistance in arranging a visit to Dhahban prison near Jeddah to speak to the activists held there.

The group had requested the Saudi ambassador respond by 9 January "in light of the urgency of this matter" but in a statement on Thursday, a day after the deadline, the panel said it had still not received a reply.

We are disappointed that the Saudi Arabian government has not responded to the panel's request for a visit

Detention Review Panel member Tayab Ali

"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," said Blunt.

"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. 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."

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

The panel said it would continue to prepare its report documenting its review of alleged human rights abuses to be published at the end of the month, and welcomed additional evidence.

'Hung from the ceiling'

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.

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".

Saudi human rights activists tortured, sexually harassed in prison: Amnesty
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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.

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

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.

DRP member Ali said: "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.

"The panel has already received significant evidence relating to the detainees and will continue to review that evidence.

"We ask anyone that wishes to make submissions to the panel do so by sending information via the DRP website"

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