Saudi Women Rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. (ENNS/FPSM)
ISLAMABAD (ENNS/MD) The prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has rejected a proposal to secure her release from prison in exchange for a video statement denying reports she was tortured in custody, her family said.
Hathloul was arrested more than a year ago with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists as Saudi Arabia ended a ban on women driving cars, which many of the detainees had long campaigned for.
Some of the women appeared in court earlier this year to face charges related to human rights work and contacts with foreign journalists and diplomats, but the trial has not convened in months.
The case has drawn global criticism and provoked anger in European capitals and the US Congress after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last year.
Rights groups say at least three of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault.
Saudi officials have denied torture allegations and said the arrests were made on suspicion of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad.
In March, Hathloul and some of the other women described in a closed court session the mistreatment they had experienced, sources familiar with the matter said at the time.
Hathloul, 30, initially agreed to sign a document denying she had been subjected to torture and harassment, her brother Walid tweeted.
In a recent encounter, however, state security officials asked her to make a video denial, which her family said she had refused.
“Asking to appear on video and to deny the torture doesn’t sound like a realistic demand,” Walid said.
Hathloul’s siblings allege that Saud al-Qahtani, at the time a senior adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has also been implicated in Khashoggi’s murder, was present during some of the torture sessions and threatened to rape and kill her.
The Saudi public prosecutor has said his office investigated the allegations and concluded they were false. Some of the charges against the women fall under the kingdom’s cybercrime law, which stipulates prison sentences of up to five years, according to rights groups.
Those against Hathloul include communicating with 15 to 20 foreign journalists in Saudi Arabia, attempting to apply for a job at the United Nations and attending digital privacy training, her brother has said.
Scores of other activists, intellectuals and clerics have been arrested separately in the past two years in an apparent attempt to stamp out possible opposition, despite the crown prince’s push to open up Saudi society and end the economy’s dependence on oil.