Saudi activists, including a number of women, who have been imprisoned from the last six months, have been tortured and sexually harassed in jail, a human rights group has claimed.
Several activists being detained in Saudi Arabia's Dhahban Prison, have reportedly faced sexual harassment, torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, Amnesty International said today.
Saudi Arabia has detained at least ten women and seven men since a crackdown against dissidents in May on 'national security' allegations related to their human rights work.
According to three separate testimonies obtained by Amnesty, the activists were repeatedly tortured by electrocution and flogging, leaving some unable to walk or stand properly.
In one reported instance, one of the activists was made to hang from the ceiling, and according to another statement, one of the detained women was reportedly subjected to sexual harassment, by interrogators wearing face masks.
Many of the detainees, who have been held without charge since May, suffered uncontrolled shaking of their hands and were left with marks on their bodies.
One of the activists reportedly attempted to take her own life repeatedly inside the prison.
Torture and other ill-treatment in Saudi Arabian prisons and detention centres have been routinely and widely reported in the past, in violation of its obligations under international law including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Many detainees have reported during trials that torture was used to extract 'confessions' from them, to punish them for refusing to 'repent' or to force them to promise not to criticise the government.
Such 'confessions' have furthermore routinely formed the basis for harsh sentences, including the death penalty, without the judiciary taking any steps to duly investigate these claims.
Several activists who were arbitrarily detained in a crackdown in May, which saw a number of human rights campaigners, held without charge, with no legal representation and in solitary confinement for the first three months of their detention.
Those detained in Dhahban Prison include Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sada, Mohammad al-Rabe'a and Dr Ibrahim al-Modeimigh.
Award-winning women's rights campaigner, Samar Badawi, and Nassima al-Sada were arrested two days apart in August as the crackdown intensified.
Women's rights activists Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya'a al-Zahran were detained in the ensuing months and remain in detention without charge.
Before being arrested al-Hathloul befriended Meghan Markle at a summit of global leaders in Ottawa, Canada, also attended by Justin Trudeau, Kofi Annan and Emma Watson in July last year.
In 2012 Badawi was presented with the US State Department's International Women of Courage Award by the-then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady at the time, Michelle Obama for challenging the guardianship system with operates in the ultra-conservative kingdom that means women have to be accompanied in public by a male relative.
Other activists such as Mohammed al-Bajadi and Khalid al-Omeir, as well as Hatoon al-Fassi, a prominent women's rights activist and academic, were also reportedly detained shortly after the lifting of a ban on women driving in the kingdom.
Last week, Hatoon al-Fassi received the Middle East Studies Association Academic Freedom Award, which was awarded in her absence at the association's annual meeting.
Activists report that many others, including other women's rights activists, have also been detained since the crackdown in May.
But the escalated crackdown on dissenting voices has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country, intensifying an already existing environment of fear for people to report on arrests and other violations.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East research director, said the murder of the Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month also threatens the human rights of Saudi citizens.
She added: 'Only a few weeks after the ruthless killing of Jamal Khashoggi, these shocking reports of torture, sexual harassment and other forms of ill-treatment, if verified, expose further outrageous human rights violations by the Saudi authorities.
'Saudi authorities are directly responsible for the well-being of these women and men in detention. Not only have they been deprived them of their liberty for months now, simply for peacefully expressing their views, they are also subjecting them to horrendous physical suffering'.
'The Saudi authorities must immediately and unconditionally release detained human rights defenders who are being held solely for their peaceful human rights work and launch a prompt, thorough and effective investigation into the reports of torture and other ill-treatment with the view of holding those responsible to account.
'The international community must take substantive measures to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release all those jailed for peacefully exercising their human rights.'
Last month Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor announced he was seeking the death penalty against five human rights activists, including for the first time a woman.
The five stand accused of inciting mass protests in mainly Shiite areas of the Sunni-ruled kingdom's oil-rich Eastern Province and human rights groups charged that the execution threat was a calculated bid to stifle dissent.
Female activist, Israa al-Ghomgham, who documented the protests in Eastern Province since they began in 2011, would be the first woman to face the death sentence for human rights-related work.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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