'Wasn't me': Saudi crown prince ‘doesn’t know anything’ about his government’s torture of women activists

'Wasn't me': Saudi crown prince ‘doesn’t know anything’ about his government’s torture of women activists
The family of jailed activist Loujain al-Hathloul has accused Saudi Arabia of torturing her in prison.
3 min read
30 September, 2019
Hathoul was detained last year along with several other women's rights campaigners [Twitter]
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has denied knowledge of allegations of the torture of a female activist  already acknowledged and refuted by the kingdom's public prosecutor.

The family of Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi women's rights activist arrested in a sweeping crackdown on dissent last year, has repeatedly alleged the campaigner has faced torture and sexual harassment while in prison.

Hathloul's ordeal, which reportedly included threats of rape, was allegedly overseen by the crown prince's "right-hand man", Saud al-Qahtani.

In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Bin Salman was asked whether reports of Hathloul's torture were true.

"If this is correct, it is very heinous," he responded. "Islam forbids torture. The Saudi laws forbid torture. Human conscience forbids torture." 

While Saudi Arabia's criminal code indeed prohibits torture, the kingdom has been routinely accused of torture by human rights organisations.

Bin Salman went on to say that he would "personally follow up" on the allegations.

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor, however, has already ruled on the accusations by Hathloul and several other women's rights activists, claiming them to be false.

The allegations by Hathloul's siblings have also been verified by human rights organisations.

Hathloul is among ten other women activists currently on trial for charges, described as "bogus" by Amnesty International, including contact with foreign media, diplomats and human rights groups.

Read more: Saudi women activists should be honoured, not imprisoned

"They have connections with agencies of other countries. They have a network, connection with government people, leaking information for the sake these other governments. Secret intelligence," bin Salman claimed in an interview with 60 Minutes last year. "We have some of them with videos. We can show it to you." 

Such videos never surfaced.

The arrests of Hathloul and other prominent campaigners for Saudi women's right to drive came just weeks before a longtime ban on the practice was officially lifted.

Saudi authorities have offered to release Hathloul in exchange for her video testimony denying that she had been tortured and sexually harassed in prison, her family claimed last month.

"The Saudi state security has visited my sister in prison recently. They have asked her to... appear on video to deny the torture and harassment," her brother Walid al-Hathloul, who is based in Canada, said on Twitter.

"That was part of a deal to release her."

A group of UN human rights experts last week urged Hathloul's release.

"It is shocking hypocritical that Ms al-Hathloul remains in prison for campaigning to change laws which have since been amended. Indeed, she should never have been imprisoned in the first place for exercising her fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association," they said in a statement.

"In spite of recent improvements in Saudi Arabia's male guardianship laws, it is imperative that the world does not lose sight of the human rights concerns which persist in the country, as human rights defenders have continued to express."

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