Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Girls & Women

Imprisoned Women's Rights Activists Share Details of Torture in Saudi Arabia


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Human rights activists need to be protected. Saudi investigators interviewed detained women’s rights activists and learned they’ve been brutally tortured in jail. You can join us in taking action on this issue here

Saudi Arabia's government is allegedly torturing jailed women’s rights activists in particularly gruesome ways, ahuman rights commission has reported.

The investigators have been conducting interviews with activists in prison, who say they are being sexually harassed, electrocuted, and lashed, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. 

The investigators are reporting their findings to Saudi King Salman. Saudi Arabia has denied the abuse.

Take Action: Urge Leaders to Step up For Women’s Rights and Health

One activist told the commission that security officials electrocuted her hands. 

“My fingers resembled barbecued meat, swollen and blue,” she told investigators.  

Critics of the Saudi government say this treatment of activists and those who speak up is an attempt to punish rebellion against current leadership and limit freedom of speech. The Saudi government has also denied these allegations. 

“No one should ever be punished for exercising their most fundamental human rights,” the UN said in a statement in October, demanding that five women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia be freed. 

Saudi Arabia has detained more than a dozen women rights activists since May. The government is imprisoning them for being “traitors,” alleging that they conspired with foreign entities and spread bad morale.

Many of the women being held fought against the country’s restrictive driving ban, which prohibited them from taking the wheel and was lifted in June. Others campaigned for women's right to vote in the kingdom, granted in local elections in 2015

Of the 18 detained men and women, none of them have been formally charged, but at least eight have been physically abused, according to the human rights commission’s report. Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, allegedly supervised some of the torture, according to testimonies activists gave to investigators. Much of the abuse occurred in a government-run facility in Jeddah in the summer before they were transferred to regular prison, the activists said.  

Read More: Women’s Rights Activists in Saudi Arabia Just Scored a Major Goal for Equality

Sixty-year-old university professor Aziza al-Yousef, mother of three Eman al-Nafjan, and Samar Badawi — known for opposing the country’s male guardianship laws — allegedly suffered this abuse. 

Loujain al-Hathloul, a 29-year-old leader in Saudi Arabia’s driving ban movement, was subjected to the most severe treatment, according to the report. Qahtani allegedly oversaw her torture and threatened to rape her, kill her, and throw her into the sewage, according to a prisoner who said she was waterboarded and interrogated about her situation. 

The release of this information further exposes the country's regime, as it is under scrutiny for murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s after he was openly critical of the country’s government. 

Saudi officials following the activists’ cases don’t think the human rights commission's investigations will lead to criminal charges against the government.

Based on the treatment of women’s rights activists, the country has a long way to go before it can live up to its surface-level attempts at reaching equality.