The health of prominent Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has deteriorated after she went on a fast six days ago to protest the denial of her right to contact her family. Saudi prison officials finally allowed her parents to visit her in prison on September 1, Monday.
Imprisoned since May 2018, Loujain is one of several women activists currently being held in Saudi jails. Others include Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Nouf Abdelaziz al Jerawi and Mayaa al-Zahrani.
Loujain’s sister, Lina, confirmed on Twitter that her parents had visited the prison on Monday. However, according to her family and multiple media reports, the activist’s health is fast deteriorating.
Loujain had reportedly launched her hunger strike after learning that she was being prevented from meeting her family or receiving the weekly phone calls allowed to other prisoners. Her family also claimed that they were not allowed to meet her since June 9.
Saudi human rights organization Prisoners of Conscience had urged the government in June to publicly release information regarding her health and physical wellbeing, amid strong suspicions of torture.
Loujain is a well-known critic of the Saudi system of male guardianship of women and had demanded lifting of the driving ban on Saudi women. At the time of her arrest, she was driving on a highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, when she was abruptly blocked by a group of cars. She was detained and then interrogated by Saudi intelligence agents before being deported to Saudi Arabia, where she has been in prison ever since.
According to her sister, Saudi authorities have not informed her or her family of the status or possible duration of her detention. They have also not provided any details regarding progress in the case against her. The Saudi authorities have charged her with “harming the interests of the country” and have tried to label her a ‘traitor’. She has also been accused of collaborating with international human rights organizations, foreign journalists, and a British diplomat, against Saudi interests.
Through the few people she has been allowed contact with during her time in prison, Loujain has complained of being subjected to different forms of torture. According to her testimonies, she was repeatedly threatened with rape by a senior Saudi official who was overseeing her interrogation. He reportedly ordered her to be tortured throughout the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Other serious allegations of torture such as electric shocks and brutal beatings on the soles of her feet have also been raised by people who were in contact with her over the last two years.
The Saudi regime has faced repeated criticism from international human rights organizations and some governments over the abhorrent persecution of multiple women’s rights activists in the country. Various British and European Union delegations to Saudi Arabia have also reported difficulties in getting access to imprisoned activists and noted the inhuman treatment meted out to such prisoners by the ultra-conservative Saudi authorities.
Many of these prisoners have been slapped with frivolous and obscure charges, and are made to go through unfair trials without the due process of law. Several are convicted based on false evidence or forced confessions obtained through torture.