The human rights organisation cited reports of torture and sexual harassment in Dhahban Prison and the mishandling of Khashoggi's killing. TRT World speaks with an Amnesty researcher, who is an expert on Saudi affairs.
Amnesty International released a report on November 20, condemning the torture and sexual harassment of detained activists in Saudi Arabia. Three unnamed activists gave separate testimonies to Amnesty about the kingdom’s injustices.
They have been detained without charge in Dhahban Prison since May 2018 and have complained about their ill-treatment, including sexual harassment, torture and more.
The testimonies in the Amnesty report mention electrocution and flogging, “leaving some unable to walk or stand properly”. One of the prisoners was “made to hang from the ceiling”, while another activist, a woman, was reportedly “subjected to sexual harassment by interrogators wearing face masks”.
Speaking to TRT World on November 19, Amnesty’s Saudi Arabia Researcher Dana Ahmed said for the most part, activists would not have access to their lawyers during interrogations, even though they are supposed to under Saudi law. The detainees would be held incommunicado, Ahmed said, with no access to lawyers or their families during pretrial detention.
Detainees may be reluctant to come forward with their stories because they have been threatened, Amnesty said. The report notes that authorities in Dhahban Prison have reportedly “warned detained activists against disclosing any accounts of torture or prison procedures to family members”.
Ahmed noted that during trials some activists are allowed to have legal representation and routine access to their families, but she pointed out that Amnesty has “documented cases where people have been detained in prolonged pretrial detention, some for years”.
The Amnesty report also states that the use of torture and other ill treatment in Saudi Arabian prisons has been “routinely and widely reported” in recent years, violating international law that protects the rights of detainees and prisoners.
In the report, Amnesty’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf had some harsh words for the Saudi authorities. She said: “Only a few weeks after the ruthless killing of Jamal Khashoggi, these shocking reports of torture, sexual harassment and other forms of ill-treatment, if verified, expose further outrageous human rights violations by the Saudi authorities.”
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who wrote for the Washington Post, disappeared after walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Saudi authorities admitted that he was killed, but were unable to produce his body. While the Turkish authorities say his body was dismembered and disposed of, the Saudi government's narrative keeps changing.
Ahmed believes an independent investigation is necessary, and that all sides involved in the killing must cooperate to get to the bottom of this gruesome story. After insisting Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed, Saudi authorities eventually admitted to his premeditated killing.
Given the lack of transparency in the judicial system and given that the judicial system in Saudi Arabia is not independent it is very difficult to trust these findings [of the Saudi investigation] … [T]he only way to find the real truth about what happened to Khashoggi is through an independent investigation. For this to happen all sides that are involved in this murder need to cooperate with such an investigation.
The Amnesty report also demands that the international community takes “substantive measures” to put pressure on Saudi Arabia so that it releases activists “immediately and unconditionally”. The report notes that the “escalated crackdown on dissenting voices” has severely affected freedom of expression in the country, which is already infamous for its “environment of fear”.