In the wake of the brutal torture and murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, multiple reports have surfaced alleging that the Saudi Arabian government has also tortured and sexually harassed imprisoned women’s rights activists.
At least eight female activists detained in the last year have reportedly been tortured by Saudi officials while in the nation’s Dhahban Prison, according to The Wall Street Journal. According to three separate testimonies obtained by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch, the torture included electric shock, whipping, sleep deprivation tactics and sexual misconduct including forcible kissing, touching and sexual assault.
The activists showed physical evidence of torture that included red marks on the body, uncontrollable shaking in the hands; some were unable to walk or even stand. One testimony alleged that a woman was hung from the ceiling for a long period of time, and at least one activist attempted suicide multiple times while detained. The activists were also reportedly kept in solitary confinement for at least several months.
Human Rights Watch reported that it was “unclear whether [Saudi officials] were seeking to force the women to sign confessions or merely to punish them for their peaceful advocacy.”
The reports come just weeks after Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and resident of the U.S., disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. It was later revealed that Khashoggi was tortured, dismembered and beheaded inside.
“Any government that tortures women for demanding basic rights should face withering international criticism, not unblinking U.S. and U.K. support.”
“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,” Amnesty International’s Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf said on Tuesday.
“Saudi authorities are directly responsible for the well-being of these women and men in detention,” Maalouf continued. “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.”
Michael Page, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, also responded to the allegations of torture in a Wednesday statement.
“Any government that tortures women for demanding basic rights should face withering international criticism, not unblinking U.S. and U.K. support,” he said.
President Donald Trump has faced continuing criticism for doing little in response to the Khashoggi murder, despite a CIA conclusion that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the death of the journalist. Trump has instead stressed the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, as well as the economic benefits of Saudi purchases of U.S. weapons.
Trump’s stance has prompted a barrage of bipartisan criticism. Sen Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), of late a staunch Trump supporter, said Tuesday “it is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder” of Khashoggi.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote on Twitter that “I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
The crown prince, the country’s youngest ruler in modern history at 33 years old, has pushed modernizing the country by lifting the ban on female drivers, launching economic reforms and re-opening movie theaters for the first time in decades. Just weeks before lifting the driving ban, however, the crown prince cracked down on women’s activists and other peaceful protesters ― a move many critics say was a power-hungry attempt to show that progressive change can only come from the government.
The government announced in August that it’s seeking the death penalty for five human rights activists on charges of incitement to protest and providing moral support to rioters. Of the five detainees is Israa al-Ghomgham, who would be the first woman to face the death penalty for non-violent human rights-related work.