Jailed Saudi activist rejects deal to deny torture for release
Jailed Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has rejected a release deal that would have granted her freedom in exchange for denying that she was subjected to torture, according to her family.
Hathloul, who was arrested in May 2018 as part of a crackdown on government critics, initially agreed to sign a document denying the torture, her brother Walid al-Hathloul wrote on Twitter Tuesday. But when Saudi security officials requested she make the statement on camera, she rejected the offer, Walid added.
“When the state security asked her to sign the document for the video release, she immediately ripped the document,” Walid wrote. “She told them by asking me to sign this document you are involved in the cover up and you’re simply trying (to) defend Saud Al-Qahtani who was overseeing the torture.”
Activists have accused Qahtani, a former top advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, of involvement in the torture.
CNN’s attempts to reach Qahtani through the Saudi government were unsuccessful and Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on the torture allegations.
Qahtani was removed from his post after he was implicated in the October 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Through a series of tweets and media interviews in recent months, Hathloul’s siblings have detailed alleged torture endured by the prominent women’s rights activist.
“Whenever Loujain spoke about the torture sessions to my parents, her hands shook uncontrollably. I fear the pain will stay with her forever,” Walid al-Hathloul wrote in a CNN opinion piece in January.
“My own baby sister said she is being whipped, beaten, electrocuted and harassed on a frequent basis,” he wrote. “She said that sometimes there are masked men who wake her up in the middle of the night to shout unimaginable threats.”
In a six-page charge sheet for Hathloul’s case, seen by CNN, a section titled “crimes committed” includes activism against the kingdom’s male guardianship laws, along with contact with foreign journalists and diplomats.
A job application to the UN that Hathloul once filled in was used as evidence against her, according to the charge sheet.
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia announced it was set to ease male guardianship restrictions.
Several jailed women’s rights defenders, including high-profile activist Aziza al-Yousef, have been temporarily freed in recent months.
At a court session in March, Yousef cried as she spoke about the physical and sexual abuse she said she had suffered in detention, according to two sources briefed on the events. “They respected nothing about who I was,” the longtime activist said, according to one source.
Riyadh previously denied allegations of torture in a statement to CNN following an initial HRW report alleging physical and sexual abuse against Hathloul and other detained female activists in November.