Report reveals new details on alleged torture, sexual abuse in Saudi prisons

Report reveals new details on alleged torture, sexual abuse in Saudi prisons
3 min read
13 July, 2021
Human Rights Watch says Saudi Arabia is unwilling to 'conduct a credible, independent investigation into the torture allegations'.
One detainee, who was not named, 'lost consciousness' during one of the torture sessions, according to a Saudi prison guard [Getty]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed new accounts of alleged torture and sexual harassment in Saudi prisons in a report published on Sunday. 

The report contains testimonies from a Saudi prison guard who sent the US-based human rights watchdog anonymous messages about the abusive treatment of detainees around mid-to-late 2018. 

The report references four alleged victims of torture, including human rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, and follows announcements from Saudi authorities that torture allegations were investigated but no evidence was found. 

Adam Coogle, a deputy director with the Middle East and North Africa division at HRW, told The New Arab that he was "surprised" that the anonymous source came forward with these detailed accounts. He was not, Coogle added, surprised by the allegations themselves.

He said the organisation was "confident" the source was credible, despite not giving a name and wanting to remain anonymous.

Al-Hathloul, one of the two named alleged victims of torture, was subjected to "sexual harassment unprecedented to me from what I've witnessed," wrote the guard to HRW. 

"They were relishing insulting her," he wrote. "They were mocking her that she is liberated and would not mind the harassment such as sticking their hands into her underwear or touching her thighs or spouting degrading words at her." 

Al-Hathloul was arrested in 2018 alongside a number of Saudi women’s rights activists for speaking out against discriminatory laws. After more than 1,000 days in prison, she was released in February 2021. Amnesty International has previously claimed she was "tortured and sexually harassed" while detained. 

Another named alleged victim was al-Rabea, also arrested in 2018 and sentenced to six years in prison for charges related to his activism. 

The guard told HRW: "Al-Rabea was among the people who was tortured beyond his capacity to endure". He is still in prison, according to the report. 

Saudi Arabia's Public Prosecution - which reports directly to the king and crown prince - announced in March 2019 that its office as well as two other departments had conducted an investigation into torture allegations and found no evidence to support them. 

However, HRW said Saudi Arabia is unwilling to "conduct a credible, independent investigation into the torture allegations". 

Saudi Arabia will only allow an independent investigation if "compelled to do so", said Coogle to The New Arab, speculating that the only chance would be if the US or other international institutions applied public pressure.

The New Arab contacted the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office for a comment on this story, following UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab's trip to Saudi Arabia and praise for "Saudi Arabia's progress towards women's empowerment", however received no response by the time of publication.