Saudi exile to establish group to fight for women's rights

Former key MBS aide Saud al-Qahtani asked Reem Suleiman to stop writing and then she was imprisoned and tortured.

    Reem Suleiman says she was tortured before managing to escape Saudi Arabia to the Netherlands [Al Jazeera]
    Reem Suleiman says she was tortured before managing to escape Saudi Arabia to the Netherlands [Al Jazeera]

    Saudi exile Reem Suleiman has told Al Jazeera she intends to start a new organisation advocating for women's rights in the kingdom.

    In an interview with Al Jazeera Arabic, Suleiman, who is seeking asylum in the Netherlands, said she would only feel calm when other dissidents were freed from Saudi prisons and were able to express themselves without fear of government retribution. 

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    Suleiman was a columnist for several government-controlled Saudi newspapers until she was ordered to stop writing by Saud al-Qahtani, a former key adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

    Qahtani is one of the 17 individuals sanctioned by the US State Department over the murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

    While he was said to have been sacked after the killing, the Washington Post reported Qahtani remains in regular contact with Prince Mohammed, also known by his initials MBS.

    Shortly after being ordered to stop writing by Qahtani's office, Suleiman's home was stormed by armed men and she was arrested.

    During her detention, the columnist alleges torture and psychological abuse at the hands of Saudi security forces, which she says left her with permanent damage to her left hand.

    The experience initially left her contemplating suicide. However, with time, it hardened Suleiman's resolve and made her more determined to bring about change in Saudi Arabia.

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    "My character has become stronger than ever before, and [now] I can fight injustice in front of a totalitarian regime, which does not hesitate to abuse," she said. 

    Eventually, Suleiman managed to escape Saudi Arabia and found her way to Bahrain. Since fleeing to her new home in the Netherlands, she continues to feel the reach of the kingdom, with Saudi trolls flooding the comments under her tweets with abusive messages. 

    Ostensible reforms

    When MBS rose to power, he was lauded by many pundits in the Middle East and Western countries for his seeming liberalisation of the Saudi economy and society.

    The prince ended a ban on women driving, opened cinemas, and reigned in the power of the country's religious police.

    However, those reforms have come coupled with severe repression of political opposition, including women's rights activists.

    Rights groups have repeatedly called for the release of detainees, including prominent activists such as Lujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Yousef

     

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera