A panel of British lawmakers said Monday that ‘Saudi authorities at the highest level’ could be responsible for the torture of women activists in what is likely a violation of international law.
Human rights charity Amnesty International said last month it had documented 10 cases of torture and abuse – including sexual harassment, electrocution, flogging and death threats – while the activists were held at an undisclosed location last summer.
Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where public protests and political parties are banned, says it does not have political prisoners and denies torture allegations. Officials have said monitoring of activists is needed to ensure social stability.
Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman could be responsible for the torture of women activists, British lawmakers have concluded
Yet British lawmakers Crispin Blunt, Layla Moran and Paul Williams said they found reports by international rights groups and news media to be credible, describing the detainees’ treatment as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’.
The lawmakers, who formed a cross-party review panel with prominent lawyers, said the Saudi authorities had also violated international law by holding the detainees incommunicado and denying them access to legal advice.
Culpability rests not only with direct perpetrators but also those who are responsible for or acquiesce to it, they added.
‘The Saudi authorities at the highest levels could, in principle, be responsible for the crime of torture,’ their final report said.
Journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October – in what has been a turning-point in public opinion on the Gulf kingdom and its leadership
The investigation by Amnesty International found a group of activists detained in the country since last May had reported being tortured and sexually abused repeatedly.
In one case, an activist was allegedly told by an investigator his family had died and allowed to believe the lie for over a month.
Another pair of demonstrators were reportedly forced to kiss one another while their interrogators watched.
The activists also reported severe torture methods such as waterboarding and electric shocks.
Some of the detained women’s rights activists have been accused in Saudi media of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and supporting Qatar, which is locked in a dispute with Riyadh.
The British lawmakers called on the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and review the allegations against them, and to prosecute those responsible for their mistreatment.
They said requests to visit the detainees in Saudi Arabia have gone unanswered.
‘The Saudi women activist detainees have been treated so badly as to sustain an international investigation for torture,’ said Blunt, a Conservative MP.
‘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,’ he said.
The conclusions of the panel indicate growing uneasiness among Western allies with alleged rights abuses under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto leader who already facing criticism over last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Reuters reported that an aide to Prince Mohammed who was fired for his role in the Khashoggi murder personally oversaw the torture of at least one of the women months earlier.
A United Nations investigator is now leading an international inquiry into the journalist’s murder, which has tarnished the crown prince’s standing in the West after he won accolades for seeking to ease social restrictions and end the country’s dependence on oil revenues.
Those reforms have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including the arrest of over a dozen women’s rights campaigners starting last May, most of whom had advocated for the right to drive and an end to the male guardianship system.
Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, pictured, is being regularly beaten, whipped and tortured in a ‘palace of terror’, her brother revealed
The brother of Saudi women’s right activist Loujain al-Hathloul – who defied the kingdom’s ban on women driving before it was lifted last year – wrote an opinion piece last week for CNN, in which he said she is being regularly beaten, whipped and tortured in a ‘palace of terror’.
Walid al-Hathloul said that on a recent visit to the prison where Loujain is being held, she told him that she was being tortured with electric shocks and sexually harassed.
The Saudi government communications office did not reply to a request for comment on the Amnesty report, which came after similar testimonials in November last year of a group of women being repeatedly tortured by Saudi officials using electricity and flogging – leaving some unable to walk.
After Amnesty and others reported on the claims of torture and sexual harassment in November, the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Media dismissed the claims as ‘baseless’.
Several activists imprisoned in Saudia Arabia have reported incidents of torture and sexual abuse