A human-rights commission reporting to Saudi King Salman is investigating the alleged torture of detained women’s rights activists, including accusations of waterboarding and electrocution, according to government officials and other people familiar with the activists’ situation.
A top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saud al-Qahtani, allegedly oversaw some aspects of the torture and threatened at least one jailed woman with rape and death, according to testimony before the commission, those officials and others said.
One activist told the commission that security officials electrocuted her hands. “My fingers resembled barbecued meat, swollen and blue,” the woman told Saudi investigators, according to a person familiar with her statement.
.. Some of the imprisoned women’s rights activists were labeled as traitors in pro-government media and accused by the government of conspiring with unnamed foreign entities and of spreading discord in society. None of them have been formally charged... Critics say the government targeted activists to send the message that change can only come from Saudi Arabia’s top leadership. Prince Mohammed has cracked down on internal opposition while he pushes through his agenda to liberalize Saudi Arabia’s conservative society and open up its oil-dependent economy to foreign investors... Saudi security officers physically abused them, including by electrocution, lashing and sexual harassment. Some of the most severe treatment was meted out to Ms. Hathloul, according to the Saudi officials and other people familiar with the women’s situation.Mr. Qahtani personally oversaw her interrogation, which included waterboarding, people familiar with her situation said. “Saud al-Qahtani threatened to rape her, kill her and to throw her into the sewage,” one of those people said... Mr. Qahtani, Prince Mohammed’s former media adviser and a top lieutenant, has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury over Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, has reported he played a central role in the operation that led to the journalist’s death. Before he was fired, Mr. Qahtani was in charge of the monarchy’s crackdown on those it viewed as dissidents.
Of the 18 detained activists, at least eight have been physically abused in custody, according to Saudi advisers, activists and others with knowledge of the prisoners’ treatment. Much of the abuse occurred in a government-run guesthouse in Jeddah in the summer months, before they were transferred to a regular prison, they said.
.. “The detainment and torture of women’s rights activists demanding equal rights in Saudi Arabia is another example of how the current Saudi leadership does not share our values,” Sen. Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, told the Journal. “This pattern of human-rights violations is unacceptable, and it very well may have consequences for the bilateral relationship.”
Over the past eight years, the administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined.
It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.
Under Mr. Obama, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records, labeled one journalist an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case for simply doing reporting and issued subpoenas to other reporters to try to force them to reveal their sources and testify in criminal cases.
.. the war on leaks and other efforts to control information was “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate.”
.. Mr. Obama’s record of going after both journalists and their sources has set a dangerous precedent that Mr. Trump can easily exploit.
.. before the George W. Bush administration, only one person was ever convicted under the Espionage Act for leaking —
.. “You got the impression from the tone of the government officials that they wanted to take a zero-tolerance approach to leaks.”
.. the Obama administration won a ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in my case that determined that there was no such thing as a “reporter’s privilege” — the right of journalists not to testify about their confidential sources in criminal cases.
.. That court ruling could result, for example, in a reporter’s being quickly jailed for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the Trump administration’s Justice Department to reveal the C.I.A. sources used for articles on the agency’s investigation into Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential election.