Jailed Women’s Rights Activists Tell Saudi Investigators of Torture

Human-rights commission investigating alleged waterboarding, electrocution of activists who led campaign to end driving ban on women

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.

.. According to people familiar with their situation, the victims also include driving activists
  • Aziza al-Yousef, a 60-year-old university professor;
  • Eman al-Nafjan, a mother of three; and
  • Samar Badawi, who is known for having opposed Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship rules and whose brother, liberal blogger Raif Badawi, is one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent detainees.

.. Some Saudi officials monitoring the situation said they are doubtful the investigation would lead to criminal charges.

I don’t see how they will hold anyone accountable if they already publicly denied that the torture ever happened,” said a Saudi official who is aware of the torture allegations and of the commission’s investigation..

.. “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.”

 

So, I Asked People in Saudi Arabia About Their Mad, Murderous Crown Prince

The U.S. has leverage over Riyadh. Let’s use it.

In fact, I’ve felt reasonably safe in Saudi Arabia. Officials were respectful and courteous even when I was painfully frank. But people also seemed more afraid to speak to a journalist than before, and mingled with the oppressiveness, there was an aggrieved nationalism in the air.

.. Senior Saudis privately accept that M.B.S. ordered Khashoggi’s death but insist that the Saudi-U.S. relationship is more important than one man’s life. For the sake of stability in the region, they say, America should stand by Saudi Arabia.

To which my answer is: The problem is not only that M.B.S. is a murderer, but also that he has destabilized the region, starved Yemeni children and undermined the interests of Saudi Arabia and the United States alike. Everything he touches, he breaks.

President Trump and Jared Kushner have placed their bets on the prince, and in a narrow sense they may be right. King Faisal managed to oust his incompetent predecessor, King Saud, in 1964, but I saw no sign that M.B.S. is in jeopardy of losing power.

My most interesting interaction was with a group of young professionals who believe that I am getting it all wrong.

“I don’t know why the media focuses on the bad side,” protested Tariq Buhilaigah, a consultant in Riyadh. Sure there have been missteps, he said, but the most important things going on are the modernization of the country and the diversification of the economy away from oil.

Felwa AlBazie, who is preparing to get her driver’s license, said she doesn’t know why the women’s rights activists are detained but added, “The big picture I’m seeing is that every woman in life benefits from driving, and women and men benefit from social progress.”

.. But modernity isn’t just about cappuccinos and iPhone apps; it’s also about human dignity and the rule of law. While M.B.S. is bringing social progress, he’s also recklessoppressive and brutal, and I am skeptical of his economic competence. He hasn’t even been able to organize an initial public offering for Aramco.

Trump’s bizarre defense of the prince reflects what has been wrong with the U.S.-Saudi relationship. It has become all transactional. The Saudis have treated us like body guards, and we have treated them like gas station attendants.

I suspect the real reason Trump and Kushner embrace M.B.S., aside from the hope that he will back their Middle East peace plan, is business: the belief that Saudis will invest in their personal real estate projects for decades to come.

The truth is that as Saudi Arabia’s significance as an oil producer diminishes, we need Saudi Arabia less. In 25 years, if we’re freed from the tyranny of imported oil, we may not need it at all.

Some Saudis kept trying to suggest to me that if we block weapons sales to Riyadh, the kingdom will turn to Moscow. That’s absurd. It needs our spare parts and, more important, it buys our weapons because they come with an implicit guarantee that we will bail the Saudis out militarily if they get in trouble with Iran.

 

Thomas Friedman: Everyone Is Going All the Way

It is hard to spend a week in Israel and not come away feeling that Israelis have the wind at their backs.

  • They’ve built an awesome high-tech industry
  • Regionally, the Arabs and Palestinians have never been weaker
  • Israel has never had a more unquestioningly friendly United States.
  • Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, asking Israel for nothing in return. The Arab states barely made a peep.

this wind has whetted the appetite of Israel’s settlers and ruling Likud Party to go to extremes

.. the “Likud Party unanimously urged legislators in a nonbinding resolution … to effectively annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, land that Palestinians want for a future state.”

.. Sure, the world would scream “apartheid,” but Israeli rightists shrug that the world will get used to it.

  • Nikki Haley will cover for Israel at the U.N.
  • Sheldon Adelson will keep Trump and the G.O.P. in line.
  • And the Arab regimes, which need Israel to counter Iran, will look the other away.

They think they can annex the West Bank without giving Palestinians citizenship; they’ll just let the Palestinians vote in their own elections.

.. May 17, 1983  .. Israel (backed by the U.S.) imposed virtually all its security demands on a weak Lebanese government, including a framework for normalizing trade and diplomacy.

.. “Going All The Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers and the War in Lebanon.”

I always loved that title — going all the way. It’s a recurring theme out here, and it almost always ends with a “Thelma and Louise” moment — partners driving over a cliff — and so it did with Israel in 1983.

.. everywhere I look today I see people going all the way.

  • I see Republicans trashing two of our most sacred institutions — the F.B.I. and the Justice Department — because these agencies won’t bend to Trump’s will.
  • I see Iran controlling four Arab capitals: Damascus, Sana, Baghdad and Beirut.
  • I see Hamas still more interested in building tunnels in Gaza to kill Israelis than schools to strengthen Palestinian society.
  • I see the crown prince of Saudi Arabia with one hand undertaking hugely important steps —
    • moderating Saudi Islam,
    • letting women drive and
    • opening Saudi society culturally to the world
  • and, with the other hand,
    • abducting the prime minister of Lebanon,
    • buying ridiculously expensive paintings and
    • seizing businesses in the name of combating corruption
  • I see the Taliban killing 103 people in Kabul by packing an ambulancewith explosives and driving it into a crowd.
  • I see Houthis, Yemeni warlords, Iranians, Saudis and the U.A.E. all tearing Yemen apart in the name of God knows what.

  • I see Turkey’s president silencing every critical journalist in his country.

  • I see the Egyptian and Russian presidents eliminating all serious rivals in their upcoming elections.

  • I see Bibi Netanyahu trying to derail a corruption investigation by weakening Israel’s justice system, free media and civil society — just like Trump and for the same purposes: to weaken constraints on his arbitrary use of political power.

  • I see an American president threatening to tear up, or actually tearing up, global agreements he doesn’t like —

    • the Iran nuclear deal,

    • Nafta,

    • the Trans-Pacific Partnership,

    • the Paris climate accord and

    • aid to Palestinians and Pakistanis —

  • but without any clear plan or alternative for the morning after that will improve on the status quo.

  • Worst of all, I see an America — the world’s strongest guardian of truth, science and democratic norms — now led by a serial liar and norms destroyer, giving license to everyone else to ask, why can’t I?

Can anything stop this epidemic of going all the way? Yes: Mother Nature, human nature and markets. They’ll all push back when no one else will.

.. How so?

Gaza has limited hours of electricity each day.

Result: Gaza’s already inadequate sewage plants are often offline, and waste goes untreated straight into the Mediterranean.

Then the prevailing current washes Gaza’s poop north, where it clogs Israel’s big desalination plant in Ashkelon — which provides 15 percent of Israel’s drinking water

.. In both 2016 and 2017, the Ashkelon plant had to close to clean Gaza’s crud out of its filters. It’s Mother Nature’s way of reminding both that if they try to go all the way, if they shun a healthy interdependence, she’ll poison them both.

.. then out of nowhere Iranians back home start protesting against Suleimani’s overreach; they’re tired of seeing their money spent on Gaza and Syria — not on Iranians. And, just as suddenly, the biggest internet meme in Iran becomes an Iranian woman ripping off her veil and holding it upon the end of a stick.

.. And if you don’t think markets have a way of curing excesses, you didn’t read the top story in The Times.

.. Watch out for

  1. the market,
  2. Mother Nature and
  3. human nature.

.. One is the relentless product of chemistry, biology and physics; one is the balance between greed and fear; and the third is the eternal human quest for freedom and dignity. In the end, they’ll shape the future more than any leader or party who tries going all the way.

For One Saudi Woman, ‘Daring To Drive’ Was An Act Of Civil Disobedience

Manal al-Sharif’s path to activism began simply enough: In 2011, the Saudi woman filmed herself driving a car, then uploaded the video to YouTube. Ordinarily such a video might not get much notice, but because it’s not socially acceptable for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, where there is a de facto ban, Sharif’s video went viral.

Sharif describes driving as an act of civil disobedience: “For me, driving — or the right to drive — is not only about moving from A to B; it’s a way to emancipate women,” she says. “It gives them so much liberty. It makes them independent.”

.. The private sector itself in Saudi Arabia, 90 percent of the people working there are non-Saudis, so also the contradictions here make me mad, because you don’t allow me to mix with Saudis or men in general all my life, but then you enforce a perfect stranger to be living in my house, to be driving my own car and have my own phone number. …

Most of them don’t even know how to drive! My first driver, I had to teach him how to drive. He didn’t even know the signs. … He didn’t know the city. He didn’t speak Arabic.

.. On undergoing female genital mutilation as a girl

The one, really, who circumcised us was a barber. He was my father’s friend. My mom herself was circumcised and she told us the story that she ran away when they cut one labia and the other one they couldn’t cut, and she was bleeding and she hid in the neighbor’s house.

It was shocking to me that [my] mom, she put us through the same thing. But the pressure from the society is huge … that a mother and a father can put their own daughters through so much pain just to abide by the society rules. This is how dangerous it is, that your own children, you put them through so much pain because you need to be obedient. …

I think the worst was not the pain, the worst is losing trust in the people you love. … It’s very difficult even to talk about today. … They didn’t explain to us what was going to happen. … These things bother me so much, that we put women through this pain, because it’s all about controlling us.