Jailed Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has begun a new hunger strike in prison to demand regular contact with her family, her siblings said on Tuesday.
Hathloul, whose detention since 2018 has made her emblematic of the fight for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, began refusing food on Monday evening, her sister Lina al-Hathloul said.
“Loujain told (our parents) she is exhausted of being mistreated and deprived from hearing her family’s voices,” Lina wrote on Twitter.
“She told them she will start a hunger strike starting yesterday evening until they allow her regular calls again.”
Sister of Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, jailed since 2018, announces that Loujain is on hunger strike to protest MBS’ regime denying her the right to contact her family.
I feared for Jamal’s life, now I fear for Loujian’s
🇸🇦G20 attendees should be ashamed. https://t.co/QqEvlekRyL
— Rula Jebreal (@rulajebreal) October 26, 2020
There was no immediate comment from Saudi authorities.
Hathloul’s parents were allowed to see her on Monday, her siblings said, but for months the activist has been permitted only limited contact with her family.
In August, Hathloul went on a hunger strike for nearly a week after she was denied the right to call or meet her family for several months, her siblings said. She ended that strike after her parents were eventually allowed to visit her in prison, they added.
Hathloul, 31, was arrested along with around a dozen women activists in May 2018, just weeks before Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-old ban on female drivers.
Some of them have been provisionally released, while others including Hathloul remain in detention amid what campaigners call opaque court trials over charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and human rights groups.
Her brother has said that charges against Hathloul include communicating with foreign journalists in Saudi Arabia to apply for a job at the United Nations.
Sexual harassment and torture
The pro-government media branded Hathloul and other jailed activists as “traitors” and her family allege she faced sexual harassment and torture, including electric shocks and water boarding, in detention.
Hathloul also accused former royal court media adviser Saud al-Qahtani of threatening to rape and kill her, according to her family. Saudi authorities vigorously deny the charges.
Initially when she was arrested in 2019, her brother said she had agreed to sign a document denying that she had been tortured, as a precondition for her release. He added that her family had intended to keep the deal secret. But state security officials recently visited her again in prison to demand a video testimony, reported Al Jazeera.
“Asking to appear on a video and to deny the torture doesn’t sound like a realistic demand,” Walid tweeted.
“When the state security asked her to sign the document for the video release, she immediately ripped the document. She told them by asking me to sign this document you are involved in the cover-up and you’re simply trying [to] defend Saud Al-Qahtani who was overseeing the torture,” he wrote.
When the state security asked her to sign the document for the video release, she immediately ripped the document. She told them by asking me to sign this document you are involved in the the cover up and you’re simply trying defend Saud Al-Qahtani who was overseeing the torture.
— Walid Alhathloul | وليد الهذلول (@WalidAlhathloul) August 13, 2019
Lina al-Hathloul, the activist’s sister separately said, her sibling was under pressure to deny the torture claim. “Loujain has been proposed a deal: deny the torture and she’ll be free,” Lina wrote on Twitter, reported Al Jazeera.
“Whatever happens I am certifying it [one] more time: Loujain has been brutally tortured and sexually harassed.”
How this reflects on Saudi Arabia’s image
The detention of women activists has cast a spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom, which has also faced intense global criticism over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate.
This month, European lawmakers passed a wide-ranging resolution calling on the European Union to downgrade its attendance at next month’s G20 summit in Riyadh over human rights concerns.
AFP with additional information from Global Village Space