Arrested Saudi activists tortured, sexually harassed: Amnesty

Rights group says activists arrested by Saudi Arabia this year faced sexual harassment and torture.

    According to Amnesty, Saudi Arabia is holding many of the activists without charge or legal representation [Amr Nabil/AP]
    According to Amnesty, Saudi Arabia is holding many of the activists without charge or legal representation [Amr Nabil/AP]

    Saudi activists, including women, arrested in a government crackdown this year have faced sexual harassment and torture during interrogation, Amnesty International said.

    Since May, the kingdom has held at least 10 women and seven men on vague national security allegations related to their human rights work.

    Those arrested include Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef, who campaigned for the right to drive before the decades-long ban was lifted in June.

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

    At least one activist was made to hang from a ceiling and another woman was sexually harassed by interrogators wearing face masks, the UK-based rights group added.

    Many of those arrested were accused of undermining security and aiding enemies of the state.

    Some were subsequently released, but those still held include al-Yousef, a retired professor at Riyadh's King Saud University, Amnesty said. 

    'Horrendous physical suffering'

    The group's report comes as Saudi Arabia faces intense global criticism over the killing of insider-turned-critic Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate on October 2, 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's Middle East research director, said.

    In addition to detaining the activists "simply for peacefully expressing their views, they are also subjecting them to horrendous physical suffering", added Maalouf.

    Some of the jailed activists had uncontrolled shaking of the hands and marks on their bodies. One of them reportedly attempted to take her own life repeatedly inside the prison, Amnesty said.

    Many of the activists are being held without charge or legal representation, Amnesty said.

    Al-Hathloul, an activist in her late 20s, was held in solitary confinement for around three months after her May arrest, a person close to her told The Associated Press.

    She was forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia earlier this year from the United Arab Emirates, where she was pursuing a master's degree in Abu Dhabi.

    Her husband was pressured into divorcing her after he too was forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia from Jordan, where he was working, according to the individual, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.

    There was no immediate reaction to the Amnesty report from Saudi authorities.

    Riyadh has, in the past, denied using torture and said that arrests were made on the basis of suspicious contacts with foreign entities and offering financial support to "enemies overseas". 

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    SOURCE: News agencies