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Amnesty International has obtained new reports of torture and abuse inflicted on a group of Saudi Arabian human rights activists who have been in arbitrary detention since May 2018. These reports follow similar testimonies from November 2018 into the torture of a number of the activists, and highlight the urgent need for an independent investigation into the claims, the organization said today. 

According to the testimonies, a total of ten human rights defenders were tortured, sexually abused, and subjected to other forms of ill-treatment during their first three months of detention, when they were held in an informal detention facility in an unknown location.

One woman activist was wrongly told by an interrogator that her family members had died, and was made to believe this for an entire month. According to another account, two activists were forced to kiss each other while interrogators watched. One activist reported that interrogators had forced water into her mouth as she was shouting while being tortured. Others reported being tortured with electric shocks.

“We are extremely concerned about the wellbeing of these activists, who have been in arbitrary detention for around nine months simply for standing up for human rights,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“The Saudi Arabian authorities have repeatedly proven themselves unwilling to effectively protect detainees from torture, or to carry out impartial investigations into claims of torture in custody. That is why we are calling on Saudi Arabia to give independent monitoring bodies immediate and unfettered access to the detained activists.”

In November 2018 Amnesty International documented how several activists who had been in arbitrary detention since May 2018, including a number of women, had been repeatedly tortured by electric shocks and flogging, leaving some unable to walk or stand properly. The new testimonies reveal that more activists from this group were subjected to this kind of torture.

In December 2018, Amnesty International wrote to the Saudi Arabian authorities requesting that independent monitoring bodies, including international organizations such as Amnesty International or UN human rights mandates, be given access to the human rights defenders, but the organization has received no response to date.

After Amnesty International and others reported on the claims of torture and sexual harassment in November, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Media dismissed the claims, calling them “baseless”. In December, Amnesty International received information that Saudi Arabia’s government-aligned Human Rights Commission (HRC) had met with the detained women and questioned them about the claims of torture. Following the Saudi Arabian HRC’s visit, officials from Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution also reportedly visited the detained activists in prison to investigate the claims of torture.

“We are calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders who are being detained solely for their peaceful human rights work,” said Lynn Maalouf.

The organization is also calling on the authorities to allow for independent monitors to investigate these claims, to establish the facts in an impartial manner, and identify those responsible.

Background information:

Several activists who were arbitrarily detained in the May 2018 crackdown, including women human rights defenders who were tortured, sexually harassed and otherwise ill-treated during the first three months of their detention, remain in detention without charge and with no legal representation.

In December, some of the human rights defenders were moved from Dhahban Prison in Jeddah, where they had been detained since August, to Al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh. They included: Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Shadan al-Anezi and Nouf Abdulaziz.

Samar Badawi and Amal al-Harbi are currently detained in Dhahban Prison in Jeddah. Nassima al-Sada, who has also been detained since June 2018, is now detained in al-Mabahith Prison in Dammam. So far none of the human rights defenders have been officially charged or referred to trial.

Others who have been in arbitrary detention without charge since the wave of arrests in May 2018 include Abdulaziz al-Mish’al and Mohammad al-Rabe’a. Mohammad al-Bajadi, founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, and Khalid al-Omeir, an activist who has served a prison sentence for his human rights activism, also remain in detention without charge.

Activists have also reported the detention of other women’s rights activists and academics, including Mayaa al-Zahrani, Dr. Abir Namankani, Dr Ruqayyah al-Mharib and Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi. In December, prominent lawyer and human rights advocate Dr. Ibrahim al-Modeimigh, who was detained in the May 2018 crackdown, was released. The conditions of his release remain unknown.