Jailed Saudi women’s rights activist incommunicado; family fears of torture


The family of Loujain al-Hathloul, who campaigned to win Saudi women the right to drive, has not been able to contact her for two months and has raised concerns about her condition and safety.

Her younger sister, who lives in Brussels, has told The Independent the family have not heard from Loujain for 61 days and alleged that she had been previously tortured in jail.

Loujain, a Nobel prize-nominated campaigner, who turned 31 at the end of last month, was arrested in May 2018 alongside 10 other women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia.

Loujain’s younger sister raised concerns about her condition and safety and said it subsequently emerged the last time the family stopped hearing from her back in 2018 that she was being tortured during that time.

Ms. al-Hathloul said: “We are very worried because no calls or visits for two months is very suspicious. The only thing that makes them want to hide her now is the fact she is potentially being tortured.”

“When she was being tortured before, she wasn’t allowed any visits and that is why we have the legitimate right to think she might be being tortured now.

“She was in an unofficial prison when she got arrested and Saud al-Qahtani, a former top adviser of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was there in at least one of her torture sessions. She was sexually harassed, he threatened her with raping her and then murdering her afterwards.”

“During her time in prison, she was also waterboarded, electrocuted, whipped, flogged, and force-fed during the month of Ramadan when she was supposed to be fasting.”

Ms. al-Hathloul said the Saudi authorities stopped her sister’s trial and visitors from being allowed to see her due to coronavirus but warned the kingdom is now “opening up” after the public health crisis.

Loujain, who has the right to have contact with her family under Saudi Arabian law, has been blocked from calling her siblings, who live abroad, since March 2019 and is only permitted to ring and be visited by her parents who live in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, her sister said.

Ms. al-Hathloul said her parents have been trying to contact the authorities but have had no response — adding that there has been “total silence” despite them having contacted Al-Ha’ir prison, where she was transferred in February, the state security, royal court, and the human rights commission.

Ms. al-Hathloul said the only time Loujain has spoken to her parents about the alleged torture she previously suffered was during a prison visit — adding that her sister cannot talk openly about her experiences on the phone otherwise calls will be temporarily banned afterwards.

Ms. al-Hathloul urged the British government to call for her sister to be released from jail and “at the very least” force the Saudis to allow Loujain to let them know where she is imprisoned and the current state of her mental and physical health.

Lucy Rae, a spokesperson for Grant Liberty, a human rights charity, hit out at the activist’s “enforced silence” and argued Loujain’s “only crime” is campaigning for rights women “in the west take for granted”.

Loujain, a University of British Columbia graduate, has previously told her parents she has been beaten, waterboarded and threatened with rape and murder while in prison.

Human rights organisations say Loujain was previously placed in solitary confinement and forced to endure abuse including electric shocks, flogging and sexual harassment.

She is awaiting trial on charges of communicating with foreign bodies hostile to Saudi, recruiting government employees to collect confidential information and delivering financial support to entities overseas who are hostile to the kingdom.

Saudi officials have denied the torture allegations and said they were investigating claims of maltreatment. Government figures have claimed the activists were a threat to national security. (Source: Independent UK)