Several imprisoned Saudi human rights activists, including women, have been subjected to sexual assault and torture by electrocution, flogging and sleep-deprivation, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
One woman was sexually harassed by interrogators wearing face masks, Amnesty International said, while others were tortured to the point of being unable to stand or walk properly.
A female activist repeatedly tried but failed to take her own life inside the prison, the NGO said, citing testimonies from sources familiar with conditions inside Dhahban Prison in Jeddah.
The Washington Post reported that some of the abuse occurred during interrogations, although a Saudi official insisted that all prisoners are granted access to a judiciary process “which does not in any way rely on torture.”
Most of the women activists detained in Saudi prisons are mothers or grandmothers, and have been detained without charges or access to legal representation for around six months now.
Some of them were at the forefront of calls to undo laws that give men the final say on whether female relatives can marry, obtain a passport or travel.
Loujain al-Hathloul, an activist in her late 20s who was mentioned in Amnesty International’s report, was held in solitary confinement for three months after her arrest in May, a person close to her told the Associated Press.
Al-Hathloul was forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, where she was pursuing a Master’s degree, the source said. Her husband was pressured into divorcing her.
Also among the imprisoned women is Samar Badawi, sister of jailed activist Raif Badawi and sister-in-law of Raif’s wife Ensaf Haidar, who took refuge in Quebec in 2015 along with her two children.
Other detained women include esteemed history professor Hatoon al-Fassi and rights activist Nassima al-Sada.
Authorities in Dhahban Prison have reportedly warned activists against disclosing accounts of their torture to family members and others, Amnesty International said.
Saudi Arabia has found itself at the centre of international scrutiny over its alleged disregard for human rights following the brutal killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month.
Khashoggi had repeatedly criticized Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s crackdown on dissent in his columns for the Washington Post.
“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,” said Amnesty International’s Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf.
“Saudi authorities are directly responsible for the well-being of these women and men in detention. Not only have they been deprived them of their liberty for months now, simply for peacefully expressing their views, they are also subjecting them to horrendous physical suffering.
“The international community must take substantive measures to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release all those jailed for peacefully exercising their human rights.”
The Saudi government has denied that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, despite reports that the CIA concluded that Khashoggi’s slaying could not have been carried out without the crown prince’s complicity.
U.S. President Donald Trump has so far resisted pressure to take tougher sanctions against Saudi Arabia and its crown prince over Khashoggi’s killing.
Trump said on Tuesday that the U.S. needed to protect its lucrative arms deal with Saudi Arabia, even as he said “it could well be that” Prince Mohammed “had knowledge” of the operation to kill Khashoggi.
He also dubbed the conservative kingdom a “spectacular ally” in the Middle East, pointing out that the U.S. needs Riyadh to act as a counterbalance to Iran.