A cross-party group of British politicians and international lawyers has said it remains committed to visiting eight female activists in Saudi Arabia, some of whom were jailed and allegedly subjected to torture after campaigning for the right for women to drive.
Crispin Blunt, head of the Detention Review Panel, said on Thursday that the group planned to produce a detailed report on their findings, following accusations that the rights activists were tortured with electric shocks and flogged with an egal, a rope that some men in the Gulf wear to keep their headdress in place.
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“We believe it would be a wise thing for Saudi Arabia to officially engage with us and enable us as a panel to consider their side of the story,” Blunt said.
Several international human rights groups have alleged that the activists were subjected to sexual harassment, threatened with rape and prevented from accessing lawyers.
The female activists have been identified as Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Saada and Hatoon al-Fassi.
“If the Saudi government doesn’t give us the opportunity to independently go and collect first-hand evidence for ourselves, then we will produce a report and the only evidence we will have to go on will be the existing evidence from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other sources,” said Paul Williams, a Labour member of parliament.
“We really hope the Saudi government looks favourably on our request … We are asking for the opportunity to collect first-hand evidence, but if that response is not responded to or denied, we fully intend to produce the report and give our comments on the best available evidence on the likelihood and veracity of these claims.”
Abuse, suicide attempts
Riyadh has rejected the accusations as “baseless,” calling them “simply wrong”.
“The wild claims made, quoting anonymous ‘testimonies’ or ‘informed sources’, are simply wrong,” the kingdom’s Ministry of Media had said in a statement in November.
Citing separate testimonies, Amnesty said the abuse took place in Jeddah’s Dhahban prison and unofficial centres, where activists had been arrested without charge since May.
According to the group, one of the activists tried to commit suicide multiple times.
The kingdom has faced increased scrutiny since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and critic of the country’s leadership, in October.
After offering several contradicting accounts, Saudi Arabia finally admitted that he was killed in a botched operation at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul and his body subsequently dismembered.