Skip to main content

Saudi Arabia denies rights activists tortured and sexually harassed in jail

Riyadh dismisses as 'baseless' reports that detained activists, including women, faced sexual harassment and torture during interrogation
The activists have been held since May in Dhahban prison on the western Red Sea coast (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia has dismissed as "baseless" reports that detained activists, including women, faced sexual harassment and torture during interrogation.

The activists, held since May in Dhahban prison on the western Red Sea coast, have faced repeated electrocution and flogging, leaving some of them unable to stand or walk, Amnesty International said on Tuesday, citing three separate testimonies.

"These recent reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are baseless," the kingdom said in a statement on Friday.

The government said that it "strongly denies" the accusations, calling them "simply wrong".

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".

In addition to the torture, at least three women activists also endured "forcible kissing and hugging," Human Rights Watch said in a separate statement also on Tuesday.

The reports came as Saudi Arabia faces intense global criticism over the killing of insider-turned-critic Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate on 2 October, which tipped the kingdom into one of its worst crises.

"Only a few weeks after the ruthless killing of Jamal Khashoggi, these shocking reports of torture, sexual harassment and other forms of ill-treatment, if verified, expose further outrageous human rights violations by the Saudi authorities," Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East research director, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The human rights group did not reveal the identities of the activists it said have been subjected to mistreatment inside the Saudi prison, nor did it say who had provided the testimonies it collected.

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.

'Solitary confinement'

More than a dozen activists were arrested in May - just before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on women drivers the following month.

Many of them were accused of undermining security and aiding enemies of the state. Some were subsequently released.

The arrests followed an earlier crackdown on clerics, intellectuals, and activists in September 2017 in an apparent bid to silence potential opponents of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.

Several of the detained activists are being held in detention without charge and without legal representation, Amnesty said.

They were also held incommunicado in solitary confinement for the first three months of their detention, the group said.

Those detained in Dhahban Prison include Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sada, Mohammad al-Rabiaa and Dr Ibrahim al-Modeimigh, according to the human rights group.

"The Saudi authorities must immediately and unconditionally release detained human rights defenders who are being held solely for their peaceful human rights work and launch a prompt, thorough and effective investigation into the reports of torture and other ill-treatment with the view of holding those responsible to account," Maalouf said on Tuesday.

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.