Female activists who were arrested in Saudi Arabia last year face cruel and inhumane conditions that rise to the level of torture, a panel of three British lawmakers say in a new report.
The lawmakers said the women are placed in solitary confinement, deprived of sleep and assaulted and threatened with death while in custody. The activists had demonstrated last year for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia, a country where protesting is prohibited.
“The Saudi authorities at the highest levels could, in principle, be responsible for the crime of torture,” the lawmakers said in the report.
Women began driving in the country for the first time last June. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spearheaded the change as part of Riyadh’s “Vision 2030,” a plan to overhaul the Saudi economy. Before the ban was lifted, Saudi Arabia was the only nation in the world that barred women behind the wheel.
The panel, called the Detention Review Panel, said it sought access to the women but received no response from the Saudi kingdom.
The new accusations fuel growing resentment among Western nations against bin Salman, which has been building since the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October.
“The Saudi women activist detainees have been treated so badly as to sustain an international investigation for torture,” said British lawmaker Crispin Blunt. “Denied proper access to medical care, legal advice or visits from their families, their solitary confinement and mistreatment are severe enough to meet the international definition of torture.”
The report will be passed on to the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur with a request to fully investigate the abuse.
The panel said last month some of the women in custody have been sexually assaulted.
Labor lawmaker Paul Williams said he wants to discuss the findings with Saudi authorities. Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat lawmaker, said she was shocked by the arrests.
“The torture, in particular allegations of sexual harassment and threats of rape, are inexcusable,” she said.
By including an ally, the British government had hoped for better cooperation from Riyadh.
The United Nations is investigating Khashoggi’s death last Oct. 2 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudis officials have so far refused to cooperate and declined to allow access to the consulate building where the writer died.
Saudi Arabia has refused to extradite the suspects who’ve been detained for Khashoggi’s death.