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  • A Saudi woman leaves a polling station after casting her vote during municipal elections, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Dec. 12, 201

    A Saudi woman leaves a polling station after casting her vote during municipal elections, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Dec. 12, 201 | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 February 2019

A British parliamentary committee says that Saudi officials are torturing and keeping female gender activists in 'inhumane and cruel' conditions.

A group of women Saudi gender activists in jail since at least last April are being tortured and held in inhumane prison conditions, according to an ad hoc British parliamentary committee.

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A report released by the special multi-party parliamentary committee found that the group of about 10 Saudi female activists, arrested nine months ago when advocating for women’s equality and the right to drive, have been subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment contrary to national and international law. The mistreatment includes sleep deprivation, assault, sexual harassment and death threats. The British legislators concluded in their report that the women prisoners could face long-term health problems from their present conditions if they weren’t provided with urgent medical help.

The fault lies not only with those who are directly enforcing the illegal treatment but with those ordering it. “The Saudi authorities at the highest levels could, in principle, be responsible for the crime of torture,” say the British lawmakers.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is already surrounded in controversy and international criticism over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi within the Saudi embassy in Turkey.

The panel, which includes Conservative, Crispin Blunt, who has been a strong supporter of the bin Salman regime, sought access to the10 detained women  but received no response or cooperation from the Saudi ambassador in the U.K., Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz.

The Saudi government labeled the women rights activists traitors to the nation when they were arrested last May and June and have been accused of “suspicious” contact with foreign entities.

The monarchy, which bans public protests and political parties, says it does not have political prisoners and denies torture allegations.

Blunt said after the investigation: “The Saudi women activist detainees have been treated so badly as to sustain an international investigation for torture. Denied proper access to medical care, legal advice or visits from their families, their solitary confinement and mistreatment are severe enough to meet the international definition of torture.

“Saudi Arabia stands on the brink. It is not too late to alter course and avert the spiral downwards to catastrophe that the detention of these activists represents,” concluded Blunt.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP on the panel, said: “When I heard of the arrests, I was, like many people, shocked that it had happened at all. The torture, in particular allegations of sexual harassment and threats of rape, are inexcusable.”

The Labour representative Paul Williams said the allegations are shocking but that the committee is open to receiving information from the Saudi government regarding the women. “We are open to discussing our report with the Saudi authorities and to receiving any evidence they have so we can assess our conclusions on the basis of the fullest information available.”

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According to a 2018 Amnesty International report, one of the imprisoned women, Loujain al-Hathloul was detained last June for driving prior to the ban being lifted last September and that “torture and other ill-treatment” of male and female detainees is “common and widespread.”

Walid Alhathloul, brother of one of the imprisoned activists, Loujain Alhathloul, wrote a Jan. 31 op-ed for CNN detailing the alleged abuses his sister has suffered in the prison. According to Walid, Loujain told their parents in a prison visit that she is regularly beaten, electrocuted and sexually harassed. So far, a release date for the women activists has not been set.


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