A tor­turer roams the royal court

Im­pris­oned Saudi women were abused by a top aide to the crown prince.

The Washington Post - - CAPITAL BUSINESS -

IT HAS grad­u­ally be­come clear that one of the most heinous re­cent cases of tor­ture of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers oc­curred last year in Saudi Ara­bia — and may still be on­go­ing. The vic­tims are women who were ar­rested for ad­vo­cat­ing ba­sic civil rights, such as the right to drive. For months fol­low­ing their ini­tial de­ten­tions, a num­ber of the women were held in soli­tary con­fine­ment and sub­jected to beat­ings, elec­tric shocks, wa­ter­board­ing and sex­ual ha­rass­ment. Se­nior Saudi of­fi­cials are al­leged to have been di­rectly in­volved in the abuse. As in the case of the mur­dered jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi, it is es­sen­tial that they face con­se­quences.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has iden­ti­fied a dozen fe­male ac­tivists and sev­eral men who were ar­rested be­gin­ning last May and are still be­ing held. None have been of­fi­cially charged with a crime or put on trial. Last month, Amnesty said it had tes­ti­monies that 10 had been tor­tured dur­ing their first three months of de­ten­tion, when they were held in a se­cret prison. In ad­di­tion to phys­i­cal abuse, Amnesty said two ac­tivists were forced to kiss each other while in­ter­roga­tors watched. At least one of the women, Lou­jain al-Hathloul, was threat­ened with rape by Saud al-Qah­tani, a top aide to Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man who watched her tor­ture, ac­cord­ing to fam­ily mem­bers.

Most of those ar­rested are, like Ms. Hathloul, well known for their par­tic­i­pa­tion in peace­ful protests, such as driv­ing cars be­fore that right was granted to women. Sev­eral, such as Ha­toon al-Fassi and Az­iza al-Yousef, are noted schol­ars who have taught at uni­ver­si­ties. Sa­mar Badawi was awarded a prize by the State Depart­ment in 2012 af­ter she sought an end to the guardian­ship sys­tem for women and the right to vote. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Eman al-Naf­jan and Nour Ab­del Aziz, are jour­nal­ists or blog­gers.

This week, a new re­port by a panel of Bri­tish par­lia­men­tar­i­ans un­der­lined the se­ri­ous­ness of the of­fenses against them. It con­cluded that the women had been sub­jected to “cruel, in­hu­man and de­grad­ing treat­ment,” in­clud­ing as­sault, sleep de­pri­va­tion, threats to their lives and soli­tary con­fine­ment, and meet­ing “the thresh­old for the crime of tor­ture un­der both Saudi and in­ter­na­tional law.”

Crispin Blunt, a Con­ser­va­tive mem­ber of Par­lia­ment who is known as a de­fender of Saudi Ara­bia and other Gulf states, told re­porters in Lon­don that “our con­clu­sions are stark. The Saudi women ac­tivist de­tainees have been treated so badly as to sus­tain an in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion for tor­ture.” He added: “The su­per­vi­sory chain of com­mand up to the high­est lev­els of Saudi au­thor­ity would be re­spon­si­ble for this.”

The par­lia­men­tar­i­ans are re­quest­ing that the United Na­tions’ spe­cial rap­por­teur on tor­ture and its work­ing group on ar­bi­trary de­ten­tion in­ves­ti­gate the treat­ment of the women. But that shouldn’t be the only ac­tion that is taken. Saudi of­fi­cials who par­tic­i­pated in the tor­ture should be pros­e­cuted, if not in Saudi Ara­bia it­self then by courts else­where un­der the in­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Against Tor­ture.

Mr. Qah­tani, who is ac­cused of join­ing in the tor­ture of Ms. Hathloul, also played a key role in the mur­der of Khashoggi, ac­cord­ing to Saudi in­ves­ti­ga­tors and U.S. of­fi­cials. The ques­tion every demo­cratic gov­ern­ment, would-be in­vestor and celebrity guest ought to ad­dress to the Saudi regime is this: Why are these women still in prison while their tor­turer roams the royal court?

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