The family of a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist who was arrested over a year ago during a Saudi-state sanctioned crackdown on dissidents say she has refused a deal which would see her deny allegations of torture while in custody in exchange for freedom.
Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent activist in the women’s right to drive movement and also an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia’s guardianship laws, was detained alongside over a dozen other women’s rights activists in May 2018 just as the country was preparing to lift its ban on female drivers.
Many of those detained in the sweeping crackdown were held without formal charge or access to communication, rights groups say. Though the ban against female drivers has since been lifted, most of the people who were arrested are still facing trial or remain in custody.
Reports by human rights groups released in November indicate that a number of those jailed in the crackdown, including women, were tortured while in prison.
Amnesty International obtained three separate testimonies which allege instances of sexual harassment, electrocution, and flogging while in detention at the country’s Dhahban Prison. Some of the detainees were so badly harmed that they were left unable to walk or stand properly, the report said.
One woman repeatedly attempted to take her own life while inside the prison, the report added.
According to testimony cited by Amnesty, one activist was reportedly hanged from the ceiling. Another female activist was sexually assaulted by masked interrogators, the report said.
Human Rights Watch also reported similar torture at the hands of Saudi authorities to at least three women while they were in custody, abuse which included whipping and forcible hugging and kissing.
Saudi authorities have denied the allegations.
Lina Al-Hathloul on Tuesday said that her sister had been offered a deal in exchange for her release, and was told to deny the allegations of torture that have been brought forth.
“Idk [I don’t know] what I’m risking by writing this. Maybe it will harm my sister too. But I can’t keep it to myself,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Whatever happens I am certifying it 1 more time: Loujain has been brutally tortured and sexually harassed.”
On Wednesday, Walid Al-Hathloul said Saudi state security visited his sister in prison to ask her to sign a document which would have her testify on camera that the abuse did not occur. In return she would be released, Walid said.
He said the family had remained silent over the last few weeks as they mulled over the requests by Saudi authorities.
According to Walid, when approached by Saudi authorities to appear in a video denying the allegations, his sister “immediately ripped the document,” and stated that the action would constitute a cover up for Saud Al-Qatani, a former adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who she claims was overseeing her torture.
Al-Qatani also reportedly oversaw the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, and was among five officials fired by the Saudi government in relation to Khashoggi’s death.
Saudi officials have not yet publicly commented on Al-Hathloul’s case or the details of the alleged deal.
While prominent women’s rights activists remain behind bars, authorities have been moving to enhance women’s rights in the Kingdom.
In July 2018, the country lifted a decades-long ban and afforded women the right to drive. Earlier this month, authorities granted women the right to obtain a passport and travel without a male guardian.