Loujain al Hathloul accused interrogators of torture and sexual harassment, a charge vehemently denied by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture.
Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture. (Reuters)

Prominent Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al Hathloul has rejected a proposal to secure her release from prison in exchange for a video statement denying reports she was tortured in custody, her family said on Tuesday.

Hathloul, along with at least a dozen other women's rights activists, was arrested over a year ago as Saudi Arabia ended a ban on women driving cars, which many of the detainees had long campaigned for.

Rights groups say at least three of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual assault. The government has vehemently denied these charges.

Her siblings tweeted Hathloul had been offered a deal to deny any abuse took place. 

Some of the women appeared in court earlier this year to face charges related to human rights work and contacts with foreign journalists and diplomats, but the trial has not convened in months.

The case has drawn global criticism and provoked anger in European capitals and the US Congress following last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.

"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 tweeted.

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

There was no immediate reaction from Saudi authorities and the kingdom's media ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Hathloul recently marked her 30th birthday in jail.

Her brother said she had initially agreed to sign a document denying that she had been tortured, as a precondition for her release.

He added that her family had intended to keep the deal secret.

But state security officials visited her again to prison to demand a video testimony.

"Asking to appear on a video and to deny the torture doesn't sound like a realistic demand," Walid tweeted.

Her sister Lina al Hathloul separately said her sibling was under pressure to deny the torture claim.

"Loujain has been proposed a deal: deny the torture and she'll be free," Lina wrote on Twitter.

"Whatever happens I am certifying it (one) more time: Loujain has been brutally tortured and sexually harassed."

Riyadh has faced pressure from Western governments to release women activists, most of whom were jailed last summer just before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on female motorists.

Their ongoing trial has cast a spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom, which has also faced intense global criticism over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate last year.

The kingdom's recent moves to implement a more liberal outlook, including loosening restrictions on women by allowing all citizens to apply for a passport and travel freely, have been taken by many of its critics with a pinch of salt.

The new laws, which will end a long-standing guardianship policy that controlled women's freedom of movement, are to go into effect by the end of August.

The kingdom's legal system has long been criticised because it treated adult women as minors, requiring they have a man's consent to obtain a passport or travel abroad. Often a woman's male guardian is her father or husband, and in some cases a woman's son.

Source: AFP