Saudi Arabia: Video shows police chasing and beating women at orphanage
A leaked video reportedly showing Saudi security services brutally assaulting a group of women at an orphanage in Saudi Arabia's south-west has prompted outrage online and a promise by the government to investigate the incident.
The video, first posted on Twitter on Tuesday by a woman who filmed the attack, shows dozens of men dressed in security uniform and others in Saudi national dress chasing women, beating them with wooden sticks and lashing them with leather belts. The video then shows a man dragging one of the women by her hair as she screams, while another beats her with a belt.
Footage shared on social media shows multiple male security forces attacking women at an orphanage in the city of Khamis Mushait.— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) August 31, 2022
Saudi Arabia released a statement on Wednesday saying that it will open an investigation into the incident.#ايتام_خميس_مشيط pic.twitter.com/PRMIXiGl54
The orphanage is located in Khamis Mushait, a city in Asir province, some 884 kilometres from the capital Riyadh.
In response to the video, the governor of the province, Turki bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, ordered the formation of a committee to investigate “all parties” of the incident and “refer the case to the competent authority”.
The video has gone viral on social media, with the hashtag “Khamis Mushait Orphans” trending in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
'Unrelenting repression of women'
Saudi human rights advocates denounced the video as more evidence of the Saudi government’s suppression of women rights in the kingdom under the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Since becoming the kingdom’s de-facto ruler in 2017, the crown prince has overseen a widespread crackdown on dissent, despite promoting himself as a leader of liberal reforms. The crackdown has targeted members of the political opposition, the Shia minority, as well as female activists who called for an end to discriminatory policies and social practices against women.
'Women in these orphanages should be allowed to share their experiences and make calls for improved conditions without being targeted'
- Lina al-Hathloul
"Just as women’s rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul were tortured for demanding their basic rights, orphans who complain about their daily conditions will also be brutally silenced and physically assaulted," said Lina al-Hathloul, a Saudi human rights activist who serves as the head of monitoring and communications at Alqst rights group.
"This video shows the prevailing and unrelenting repression against women in Saudi Arabia. Even when women do not have male guardians and are living in orphanages, it is the arm of the state itself that violently attacks them for demanding their legitimate rights," she told Middle East Eye.
Al-Hathloul accused the Saudi government of employing an "empty narrative" about women's empowerment in the country, and using that as "a PR tool".
"If you flog women for demanding their rights, are you really empowering them?" she asked.
Meanwhile, Abdullah al-Juraywi, a London-based Saudi opposition activist and head of Diwan London dialogue platform, told MEE the assault came in response to a strike held by the women to demand improved conditions after earlier protests about mistreatment were ignored. The administration of the orphanage then requested the intervention of the security services.
It is not yet immediately clear how many women were detained in the incident. Saudi authorities have yet to release details.
"Women in these orphanages should be allowed to share their experiences and make calls for improved conditions without being targeted, harassed or assaulted in any shape or form," Al-Hathloul told MEE.
She also called on the Saudi authorities to "establish an independent and transparent investigation" into the incident and to hold the perpetrators accountable.
MEE has asked the Saudi foreign ministry for comment on the incident but received no response.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.