A file photo of Loujain al-Hathloul. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Saudi Arabian activist Loujain al-Hathloul has been in a notorious prison of the Kingdom since 15 May 2018. Her ‘crime’ was that she campaigned for women’s rights.
Now the family of the jailed human rights campaigner alleges that Loujain has been tortured in prison and threatened with rape.
Writing in an opinion piece for CNN, Walid Alhathloul, the brother of the jailed activist, alleged that his sister was regularly whipped, beaten, electrocuted and sexually harassed in a basement of the Dhahban Central Prison located in Jeddah.
“My parents were able to visit Loujain in jail. She started to talk about how they took her from Dhahban prison at midnight to what is known as the ‘hotel’. She described it as a ‘palace of terror’… She said she was taken blindfolded and thrown into the trunk of a car on the way to this secret place. The torture sessions, she said, normally occur in the basement of this palace,” Walid wrote.
Referring to Saudi Arabia as a “rouge state”, Walid wrote that he feels sick to learn that his “own baby sister…is being whipped, beaten, electrocuted and harassed on a frequent basis”.
“She said that sometimes there are masked men who wake her up in the middle of the night to shout unimaginable threats. This is the type of treatment she said Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, oversaw. Isn’t that the definition of a rogue state?” wrote Walid.
He said that Loujain was offered a deal to bring Saudi women living in exile back into the Kingdom but she rejected it.
“Because of that the treatment worsened,” Walid wrote.
In a sharp criticism of Saudi Crown Prince, Salman, Walid wrote that the Kingdom wants to present itself as a reformer but “a true Saudi reformer is being held behind bars”.
He said that his family is on a travel ban even though no court issued an order to do so.
Fears for Loujain’s safety and the torture she is undergoing in prison were also aired by her sister Alia al-Hathloul, who lives in Brussels.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times she said that when her parents went to see Loujain in prison, “she was shaking uncontrollably, unable to hold her grip, to walk or sit normally”.
“She said she had been held in solitary confinement, beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed and threatened with rape and murder. My parents then saw that her thighs were blackened by bruises,” Alia wrote.
She said that Saud al-Qahtani laughed sometimes “threatened to rape and kill her and throw her body into the sewage system”.
Qahtani, according to reports, was implicated in the Istanbul consulate murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. But the Washington Post had in January this year reported that Riyadh is tight-lipped about his whereabouts.
The torture, Alia wrote, also continued during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan (Ramzan).
Pointing at the extremely pathetic state of affairs of human rights in Saudi Arabia, Alia said that Saudi Human Rights Commission said they won’t be able to protect her even though Loujain told them of the torture when a delegation visited her in prison.
Loujain, 29, was arrested along with 10 other women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia. They were all charged with treason, accused of ‘suspicious contact with foreign entities’. The other women, too, have been reportedly tortured.
Before her arrest in May last year, Loujain had been arrested for driving – an act considered illegal for women in the Kingdom till June last year. In 2014, she was arrested for 70 days after she filmed herself attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. Loujain has been since known for her protest against the driving ban on women. But in spite of the passage of the new law allowing women to drive, Loujain was not released.
Human Rights Watch, which has been denied access to lawyers of the jailed women, alleged that Loujain and other female detainees have been tortured and sexually harassed in prison.
In spite of its deplorable human rights record, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed the Kingdom as the chair of UNHRC Advisory Committee – a decision that came in for sharp criticism from many countries and some other rights bodies.