The sister of a jailed Saudi women’s rights activist has said the campaigner lives in a “daily hell” and her health is deteriorating due to her ongoing hunger strike.
Loujain al-Hathloul, who has allegedly been tortured in prison, campaigned to win Saudi women the right to drive and was arrested several times for infringing the kingdom’s recently overturned driving ban on women.
The Nobel prize-nominated activist was arrested alongside 10 other women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia in May 2018 – weeks before the country reversed the driving ban.
Lina al-Hathloul, her younger sister who lives in Brussels, told The Independent her parents have finally been able to visit Loujain after the family grew increasingly anxious due to not hearing from her for two months.
Loujain told her parents that prison guards informed her she could not call them nor would they be allowed to visit due to the coronavirus crisis. However, Loujain later realised she was being singled out after fellow inmates told her they had been allowed to speak to their relatives on the phone and have visits.
Her 25-year-old sister said: “Loujain is in solitary confinement. When my parents saw her for the first time on 31 August after not hearing from her for two months, they noticed she was very skinny. She told them she had been on hunger strike in order to force the prison to allow her to make contact with her parents. I feel disgusted and sad and angry that she needs to go this far to just to make them listen.
“It is so disappointing that someone has to almost die for basic rights. They tried to force her to eat. They even brought in doctors so they could force her to eat. They told her if she doesn’t eat, they will force her to go to the hospital to have injections. Living in solitary confinement not knowing what tomorrow is, is what torture is. She has spent eight months in solitary confinement and does not know when she is going to have a fair trial and when she is going to leave that place. She lives in a daily hell.
“It kills us every day. It is crazy we have gone from a bad case to a worse case. First of all, she disappears and then she goes on hunger strike. They want to break her. They are trying to silence her. At some point they will have to release her, they don’t want to release a strong woman. They want to release her weak and voiceless. They are scared of her when they can see she is strong and powerful behind bars.”
Ms al-Hathloul said she thinks about her sister all the time and often sees her in nightmares but adds that sometimes Loujain appears in “good health” in dreams and laughs at everything she has been through.
It comes after her sister raised fears the activist was being tortured in prison as the family had not heard from her for 61 days.
Speaking to The Independent in mid-August, she said it subsequently emerged the last time the family stopped hearing from her back in 2018 that she was being tortured during that time.
Human rights organisations say Loujain was forced to endure abuse including electric shocks, flogging and sexual harassment while in jail.
Lucy Rae, a spokesperson for Grant Liberty, a human rights charity, urged world leaders attending the G20 summit in November in the capital of Riyadh to not attend the event unless imprisoned human rights campaigners are released.
She added: “This is a woman doing the simple act of a peaceful protest and driving a car and yet she is still in prison. It is about silencing people and stopping them from having a voice. Lina is left thinking ‘what next?’ God forbid she loses her sister.”
Grant Liberty is calling for the release of activists and scholars who want change in their country. The G20 member governments pride themselves on being human rights champions yet they are scheduled to attend a summit in one of the countries which has the highest levels of human rights abuses.
“A place where there are public beheadings, mothers are in prison because sons have been granted asylum, with mothers tortured in jails. Men and women are tortured in prisons in Saudi Arabia on a daily basis.”
Loujain, who was arrested in the United Arab Emirates before being deported to Saudi in May 2018, has previously told her parents she has been beaten, waterboarded and threatened with rape and murder while in prison.
“They saw that her hands were shaking, they saw the signs of torture – the burns and bruises on her legs,” her brother told The Independent in February last year.
He added: “One of the interrogators put his legs on my sister’s legs like you would put your legs on the table. He was smoking and puffing in front of her face.”
His sister, who has won a series of accolades for her activism, is awaiting trial on charges of communicating with foreign bodies hostile to Saudi, recruiting government employees to collect confidential information and delivering financial support to entities overseas who are hostile to the kingdom.
Saudi officials have denied the torture allegations and said they were investigating claims of maltreatment.
Source: The Independent