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.”
By expelling the Canadian ambassador, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman undermines the reforms he has made.
.. Faced with criticism from Canada over the treatment of two prominent human rights activists, Saudi rulers on Monday did the kind of thing that backward, insecure despots often do — they lashed out and penalized their critics.
Canada ran afoul of the Saudis when its foreign ministry called for the release of the women’s rights activist Samar Badawi, who was arrested last week, and her brother, Raif Badawi, who is in prison for running a website that criticized Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment.
.. Canada ran afoul of the Saudis when its foreign ministry called for the release of the women’s rights activist Samar Badawi, who was arrested last week, and her brother, Raif Badawi, who is in prison for running a website that criticized Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment
In 2013, Mr. Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes with a cane, 10 years in prison and a large fine for administering the site. He received the first 50 lashes in 2015, but his punishment was suspended, at least temporarily, after a video of the lashings drew international outrage.
.. Under Prince Mohammed, the Saudis have also not been shy about speaking out about, or directly intervening in, the affairs of other countries, including Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar and Bahrain. Saudi Arabian officials lobbied against President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and have spoken out against President Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
.. Mr. Trump has previously signaled acquiescence to, if not fondness for, the kingdom’s authoritarian ways. And the American president’s own attempts to bully Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, in June may make Prince Mohammed feel bolder about lashing out.
.. Not even two weeks ago, the State Department held a much-hyped religious freedom conference, headlined by Vice President Mike Pence, that issued a lofty statement advocating the “recognition of universal human rights and human dignity.” It’s hard to take that statement too seriously so long as the White House remains quiet about these recent developments.