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Saudi Arabia: Horrifying Testimonies of Prison Guards’ and International Community Must Act

Together for Justice expressed its shock at the recent report issued by Human Rights Watch, which talks about testimonies it received from the guards of some Saudi prisons, in which they recounted horrific details about the torture that prisoners of conscience and activists (of both sexes) are subjected to at the hands of investigators.

Former detainees or the families of current detainees, men and women, have long spoken of being subjected to severe torture, electric shocks, beatings, flogging and sexual harassment, but the Saudi authorities refused to investigate these allegations, however, with these new testimonies, the international community must act urgently to save those detainees and form independent investigation committees.

According to HRW, it “has obtained a series of anonymous text messages sent in January 2021 from an individual identifying themself as a Saudi prison guard that provide descriptions of the torture and ill-treatment, they and other prison guards witnessed Saudi interrogators commit against high-profile detainees in mid-to-late-2018.

HRW noted that the sender of the messages “declined to reveal their name for fear of reprisal but described in text messages what they saw and forwarded text messages from other prison guards.”

The messages contained testimonies from Dhahban prison, north of Jeddah, and another prison, which one of the guards said was a secret prison.

The messages talked about the torture of detainees whose names were sent, however, HRW decided to withhold some of them for security reasons related to the safety of these detainees.

Among the detainees, the “unknown guard” spoke about was the prominent women’s rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul, who had been subjected to humiliating sexual harassment by interrogators, according to the guard.

In his message he wrote, “Loujain Al-Hathloul was subjected to sexual harassment unprecedented to me from what I’ve witnessed. They were relishing insulting her. They were mocking her that she is liberated and would not mind the harassment such as sticking their hands into her underwear or touching her thighs or spouting degrading words at her.”

It is worth noting that Loujain’s family and other human rights organisations have repeatedly spoken about sexual assaults and harassment, and a lawsuit was filed before the judiciary to investigate these allegations, but unfortunately, the authorities rejected the case on the grounds of lack of evidence.

In March 2019, “Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution announced that its office, which reports directly to the king and crown prince, the governmental Saudi Human Rights Commission, and the National Society for Human Rights each conducted separate investigations into the torture allegations and found no evidence to support them”, added HRW.

In February 2021, The Saudi Appeals Court rejected Al-Hathloul’s claims that she had been tortured in jail. A month earlier, another court had also dismissed allegations that she was tortured, for the same reasons.

It is known in Saudi that none of these agencies which conducted investigations into Al-Hathloul’s torture have the independence necessary to conduct a credible, transparent investigation that would hold those responsible for torture accountable.

Another message mentioned the suffering of Mohamed Al-Rabea, who was arrested alongside the women’s rights activists in May 2018 and later convicted by Saudi Arabia’s terrorism court on April 20 and sentenced to six years in prison on a host of vague and spurious charges related to his activism. In July 27, the Appeals Court is scheduled to issue its final verdict against Al-Rabea.

The message said: “al-Rabea was among the people who were tortured beyond his capacity to endure, especially when the interrogator learned that he suffers from back pain and so he started to get creative with his torture, targeting already painful locations to the extent that he was not able to go to the bathroom without us helping him get there.”

It is worth mentioning that, according to other sources, al-Rabea was subjected to severe torture, including electric shocks, waterboarding, and beatings. They held him in small spaces without sleep or rest for days at a time, hung him upside down, and often deprived him of meals during his first year of detention.

In other messages, they spoke about male and female detainees whom HRW withheld their names for their safety.

The messages described the suffering of another male human rights activist detained in 2018. “They did not have mercy on [name withheld] … I would go to him, and I would find him a lifeless corpse and expect that he died until the doctor comes and helps him with painkillers and other medicine to revive him. Then they would again torture him.”

According to the guard, he mentioned the name a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist whom Saudi authorities arrested in a wide crackdown starting in May 2018. Human Rights Watch is withholding her name. They said: “In one of her torture sessions, [name withheld] lost consciousness and we were all terrified. We feared that she had died and that we would bear responsibility because the instructions were to not kill any of the detainees, men or women.”

As for the detainee who the organisation withheld his name the guard said “I would go to him and I would find him a lifeless corpse and expect that he died until the doctor comes and helps him with painkillers and other medicine to revive him. Then they would again torture him.”

These testimonies are horrific, and they reflect the Saudi authorities’ lack of respect for the rule of law or human rights. It also confirms the existence of great corruption in the judicial system in Saudi Arabia, which refused to investigate these allegations, and left the perpetrators unaccounted for and enjoying impunity to encourage them to commit more crimes, where they can torture and abuse prisoners’ rights without supervision.

The testimonies did not talk about the suffering of all detainees, but many others are subjected to cruel and degrading treatment, in addition to deliberate medical neglect, like the preacher Salman Al-Odah, Sheikh Safar Al-Hawali, Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan, and others.

Not opening any independent investigation into these allegations, or holding any official accountable, will keep the image internationally distorted, and all the regime’s attempts to whitewash its crimes will not succeed, despite the billions spent in this regard.

We did not find any logical reason for the authorities to justify this brutal treatment of prisoners of conscience who did not commit any crime other than their adherence to their rights to peacefully express their opinions.

We call on the international community to act urgently, and we also call on the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to form an urgent committee of international and independent investigators to travel to Saudi Arabia, investigate allegations of torture and ensure that all detainees receive their rights to a fair trial.

We join Human Rights Watch’s voice that the Saudi regime’s practices against freedom of opinion and expression against prisoners of conscience will always be the responsibility of the Saudi leaders, unless they take urgent steps to stop these crimes and hold the perpetrators accountable, regardless of their positions.

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