Several prominent detainees in Saudi Arabia have been denied contact with lawyers and family members for months, according to Human Rights Watch.
In-person visits to prisoners have been banned under Covid-19 restrictions, but Saudi activists have claimed that many dissidents and others have been unduly prevented from contacting the outside world.
Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East director Michael Page said: “Saudi authorities appear intent on making certain detainees and their loved ones suffer even further by denying them the ability to hear each other’s voices and know for certain they are OK.
“All prisoners should be allowed unfettered communication with their families and the world outside their prison cells, but especially so during these trying times.”
One women’s rights activist is said to have been prevented from phoning her family for more than two months, according to a family member. And prominent dissident cleric Salman al-Awda‘s family has not been heard from by his family since May.
Women’s rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, was finally allowed a visit from her parents in August after three months without contact. This followed a six-day hunger strike by the prominent activist, which she began after realising other prisoners were being allowed to call their families.
The three activists have been detained for more than three years, and all allege that their basic rights have been violated by being kept in abusive conditions.
The same is true for deposed former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who has been detained without charge since March. It is unknown where the prince is currently kept. What calls he has made to family members have reportedly been while under duress.
Saudi Arabia must comply with global judicial norms, and allow detainees – especially those who have not been tried – to communicate with the legal team and friends and family. The kingdom’s fear of dissent is well known. To refuse prisoners their basic rights is an act of cowardice.