Saudi detention state under scrutiny

Lujain al-Hathloul

Saudi Arabia has denied prominent detainees contact with their family members and lawyers for months, Human Rights Watch said Sept. 6 in a letter requesting access to the country and private prison visits with detainees. The situation raises serious concerns for the detainees’¬†safety and well-being, the rights group said. Saudi authorities have banned in-person visits with prisoners across the country since March to limit the spread of COVID-19. But Saudi activists and other sources say that authorities have also unduly denied numerous imprisoned dissidents and other detainees regular communication with the outside world.

“Saudi authorities appear intent on making certain detainees and their loved ones suffer even further by denying them the ability to hear each other’s voices and know for certain they are OK,”¬†said Michael Page, deputy Middle East¬†director at Human Rights Watch. “All prisoners should be allowed unfettered communication with their families and the world outside their prison cells, but especially so during these trying times.”

Prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul had been on hunger strike for six days before authorities finally allowed her parents to visit at the prison where she is being held¬†on Aug. 31, according to family members. Al-Hathloul had spent almost three months before that under incommunicado detention.¬†(HRW)

Conditions in facilities for detained migrants appear to be even worse.¬†Hundreds of African migrants have been trapped for months in “squalid”¬†detention centers in Saudi Arabia, driving some to commit suicide while others have died of heat stroke, a report released Aug. 30 said. British newspaper the Sunday Telegraph published cellphone images of shirtless, emaciated African men lying in tight rows on the floor in a bare room with barred windows.

One image showed a man who hanged himself from a window grate, while another showed what appeared to be a blanket-wrapped corpse in the middle of the room‚ÄĒa man the migrants say died of heat stroke.

“A young boy, about 16, managed to hang himself last month. The guards just throw the bodies out back as if it was trash,”¬†one migrant was quoted by the newspaper as saying. “Plenty of inmates are suicidal or suffering from mental illnesses as a result of living this for five months,”¬†said another. “The guards mock us, they say ‘your government doesn’t care, what are we supposed to do with you?”¬†(Daily Sabah)

Image:¬†social media post with the word “traitor”¬†stamped on the faces of activists detained in 2018, including Loujain al-Hathloul, top center. Via Middle East Eye.