07/14/2021, 09.03
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HRW denounces systematic violence and human rights violations in Saudi prisons

The international NGO presents the testimony of an (anonymous) prison guard and denounces the situation. Victims included the feminist leader Loujain al-Hathloul and the activist Mohammed al-Rabea. New evidence confirms Saudi Arabia's "total contempt" for the "rule of law". Credible and independent investigations are needed. 

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - The account of a prison guard - speaking on condition of anonymity - has revealed a systematic picture of violence and violations of human rights in Saudi prisons that has also affected the Havel 2020 awardee Loujain al-Hathloul, leader of the "right to leadership" for women. This dramatic testimony, relayed by the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), confirms, once again, that behind the façade of reform flaunted by the government leadership, there is a reality of serious abuse, torture and harassment

In spite of the complaints, the leadership in Riyadh has never carried out any "independent, thorough and credible" investigations, thus endorsing the targeted attacks that, in the last period, have mainly targeted female activists and personalities fighting for freedom. Witnesses report beatings, whippings, sexual harassment and electric shocks. 

Hrw collected a series of telephone messages sent last January by an anonymous source (for fear of reprisals), who describes himself as a prison guard in a Saudi prison and who also filed complaints from other colleagues.

“New evidence alleging Saudi Arabia’s brutal torture of women’s rights advocates and other high-profile detainees further exposes Saudi Arabia’s utter contempt for the rule of law and failure to credibly investigate these allegations,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Letting abusers off the hook sends the message that they can torture with impunity and never face accountability for such crimes.”

The stories relate to Dhabhan prison, north of Jeddah, and another detention centre that the prison guard calls a "secret prison". The detainees, including feminist al-Hathloul and activist Mohammed al-Rabea, were subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Loujain al-Hathloul," wrote the prison guard, "was subjected to sexual harassment that I had never seen before. They enjoyed insulting her. They teased her by saying she would be released and not have to deal with the harassment, including hands stuck in her underwear or offensive words towards her."           

In 2019, the prosecutor's office had assured a thorough investigation, the results of which would end up on the desk of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In reality nothing has been done, a "credible and independent" investigation has never started and the perpetrators of the torture continue to enjoy impunity. In February, the court rejected an application by al-Hathloul's family members alleging torture in his cell. A similar fate befell al-Rabea, who was subjected to violence (including electric shocks and waterboarding) for months in complete silence. He was kept for long periods in a small cell, deprived of sleep and food or hung upside down. 

According to Hrw's experts, the image of the Wahhabi kingdom will always remain "tarnished" until the authorities allow independent international observers to enter the country and investigate the allegations of violence in prison. “The stench of torture and other horrific treatment of Saudi detainees will stick to Saudi leaders unless they take urgent steps to stop these crimes and hold the abusers to account, even at the highest levels,” Page concludes.

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