A new report has revealed that imprisoned political opponents and pro-democracy campaigners in Saudi Arabia are being murdered, sexually assaulted, and subjected to “sheer” brutality at detention centers across the kingdom.
The study, compiled by the Britain-based human rights group Grant Liberty, identified 311 prisoners of conscience who have been imprisoned since Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman took de-facto control of the ultra-conservative country.
The report showed that 53 prisoners have been tortured, six were sexually assaulted, and 14 were pushed into undergoing hunger strikes.
It also looked at the plight of 23 women’s rights activists, 11 of whom were still behind bars and identified 54 journalists.
A total of 22 of the prisoners were arrested for crimes that they carried out when they were still children – five of them were later put to death. According to the report, an additional 13 were facing the death penalty, while four had died in custody.
“Sadly the abuse of the prisoners of conscience continues as the world watches on, women are subjected to sustained and brutal violations with no basic human rights,” Lucy Rae of Grant Liberty said.
“Imprisoning, torturing, and abusing an elderly mother such as Aida al-Ghamdi because her son has sought asylum, surely is abhorrent and wrong in any nation,” she stated.
Abdullah al-Ghamdi, a political and human rights activist who is the son of al-Ghamdi and lives in the United Kingdom, said he escaped Saudi Arabia after being threatened for campaigning against repressive measures in the kingdom.
His mother, Aida, and two of his brothers were arrested after he left, he added.
“They were arrested not because they had committed a crime, but because of my activism,” Ghamdi stated.
“For over three years, my dear aging 65-year-old mother and my younger brother have been held by the Saudi royal family,” he said, adding, "they have been held in solitary confinement and subjected to physical torture by cigarette burning, beating, and lashing.”
“I have a hard time contacting my family as this will put them in danger. The Saudi government told them not to contact me and give me any updates on my mother and brother's case, so as yet I am unsure of my mother's charges,” Ghamdi added.
He said his mother was held for over a year in Dhahban Central Prison in Jeddah before being transferred to the maximum-security Mabahith Prison in the city of Dammam. He wishes she was “safe, free and be able to rejoice with her loved ones.”
Rae also cited the case of prominent Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul.
Human rights organizations say Hathloul has been forced to endure abuse, including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual harassment while in jail.
Loujain, who successfully campaigned to win Saudi women the right to drive, was arrested alongside 10 other women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia in May 2018 – weeks before the country reversed the driving ban.
Ever since bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has arrested dozens of activists, bloggers, intellectuals, and others perceived as political opponents, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnations of the crackdown.
Muslim scholars have been executed and women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured as freedom of expression, association, and belief continues to be denied.
Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.