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Voicing your rights in Saudi Arabia will be considered as rebellion and even terrorism

She also told about Lujain was tortured in prison under supervision of Saud al-Qahtani, one of Bin Salman's confidant.

06 Februari 2021 13:58

Since appointed as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Muhammad bin Salman has gripped his power by silencing opposition. Just five months after his appointee, Bin Salman ordered his first mass arrest towards everybody considered against him, include activists, muslim scolars, academicians, wealthy businessmen, journalists, and even members of royal family.

One of the Saudi prominent women activists was arrested is Lujain al-Hazlul. She has been detained since May 2018, a month before Bin Salman allowed Saudi women to drive. Though, Lujain who has campaigned about that issue remains in prison.

According to her yunger sister, Lina al-Hazlul, there is no political freedom under Bin Salman rule and social reforms are not deep, not institutionalised, and are not for everyone. "(Voicing your rights is not only labelled as rebellion). It is even considered as terrorism now! Lujain was sentenced in the terrorism court for her activism," said Lina al-Hazlul in an exclusive interview with Faisal Assegaf from Albalad.co via WhatsApp yesterday.

She also told about Lujain was tortured in prison under supervision of Saud al-Qahtani, one of Bin Salman's confidant. "She was electrocuted, water boarded, flogged, force-fed, sexually harassed. She showed her thighs to our parents - they were blackened because of the electrocution," said Lina.

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Excerpts:

Why did the Saudi authorities detain your sister?

Lujain was first kidnapped from the Emirates in March 2018 and brought back to Saudi Arabia. She was then banned from travelling outside Saudi Arabia. After a couple of weeks she received a call from the State Security informing her that the government was soon to allow women to drive and that she shouldn’t comment on social media about it.

Lujain respected their orders, however in May 2018, Saudi authorities broke into our house in Riyadh and took Loujain. They didn’t inform us of the reason, and don’t even have a warrant. Loujain was held in communicado for three weeks and Saudi newspaper was publishing her picture all over with the label "traitor".

During 10 months, Lujain didn’t have any official charges and only in March 2019, the court called Loujain and gave her the charge sheet, her accusations. We were extremely surprised that they literally accuse her of her activism and that the rumours they had posted on social media and newspaper were not part of her charge sheet. We have published the official charges here : https://www.loujainalhathloul.org/loujains-trial-scc.

So, her official accusations are that she has campaigned for women rights.

At the time she was kidnapped in UAE, what was she doing there?

She was finishing her masters at the Sorbonne University and she had also opened her own talents agency.

In Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

Between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Do you mean Saudi security officers get a permission from the UAE authorities to arrest your sister?

We don’t know who exactly the men were if they were Saudis or emiratis. They just said they got orders.

When did your family meet Lujain in prison for first time?

In August 2018.

What did she tell about her condition?

When my parents saw her she looked exhausted, she was shaking, her neck had red marks and her eyes looked frightened. But Lujain at that time she was saying she was okay and that sometimes the cell was cold and interrogations long but nothing too bad. Visit after visit she looked exhausted.

Then after the Khashoggi case, we all read report about torture in prisons and my parents insisted with Loujain that she says the truth because it was too obvious she hadn’t had a normal treatment.

That’s when she told the truth to our parents during the first months when they weren’t allowed to visit her she was in a torture center. She was electrocuted, water boarded, flogged, force-fed, sexually harassed. She showed her thighs to our parents - they were blackened because of the electrocution.

She gave details. Saying at night she would wake up with men sleeping next to her. And that Saudi al-Qahtani was ordering the torture.

Where she was detained since arrested? Dhahban or Hayir prisons?

Dhahban till December 2018 then Hayir till today.

Does your family get a routine schedule to visit her in jail?

Yes but they also sometimes just stop it for months. They cut contact for nearly four months once. Lujain went on a hunger strike to protest this. Her basic rights are violated. We can never guarantee that the planed visits will effectively take place.

How tough is she in prison?

She's strong and resilient. They are trying to break her and to make her give up on her rights but nothing is stoping her. They proposed her a deal in August 2019 in which she would deny the torture in exchange of her release and she refused. She is still requesting a fair investigation regarding the torture and still claiming for a fair trial.

Do you believe the Saudi authorities will release her?

Yes, otherwise it is one more evidence that Saudi Arabia's judiciary is not independent and trials are unfair.

Do you think that can happen during Biden administration? Because he is concerned on the issue of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

After Lujain got sentenced, Biden's national security adviser condemned the sentencing on Twitter and called for Lujain's release. I hope the administration will continue to push for the release of my sister and make Saudi Arabia understand that there is no going back to business as usual unless prisoners of conscience are released.

What do you admire from her?

Her resilience, her bravery and her strong hold and believe in her values. It's something I and everyone admires. She is a role model.

Are you living in Belgium?

Yes.

Did you flee Saudi because you will become the target from Saudi authorities?

I didn't flee Saudi, I've been about for more than 10 years. I studied here and started working as well.

But can you visit your homeland?

Since Lujain's arrest my whole family has been put on a travel ban, meaning that they can’t leave the country. That decision was made illegally and they only found out about it when they wanted to travel. So, I guess I'm in the same situation and if I go to Saudi, I won't be able to leave it.

Why did Lujain campaign for Saudi women to get their rights for driving?

Lujain understood that not being able to drive was a brake to a lot: being able to work, have activities, go to the hospital etc.

They were at the mercy of a man for every decision, even getting food. She wanted women to be more free and the first step for this was allowing them to move by their own.

Since when Lujain launched campaign on that issue?

I can't remember honestly.

How do you see about freedoms for Saudi women launched by Bin Salman?

There are no real freedoms launched by MBS (Prince Muhammad bin Salman). His regime is the most oppressive regime Saudi Arabia has known. He is transforming the country into a police lawless state. Everything western media shows about freedoms is because they lack of knowledges on the case and repeat what the government promises, without investigating further.

But Saudi women are now can driving, going to stadium, watching movies in cinema etc?

The only real change is women driving, and that is because Saudi people have been fighting to gain that right and it was the right for years. The ones who have been fighting for it have been imprisoned as a clear message to the people: if you demand rights, we will punish you. Only silence is accepted.

As to the social reforms such as concerts, travelling etc, during last years' concerts, they said women were allowed to participate but what we saw also is the release of a new law called the public decency law which allows a police man to arrest women who he thinks are not decent enough.

Women were arrested for dancing, not being covered enough etc. The worst thing is that the women can only be released with the consent of their male guardian!

Another exemple is women being able to travel without the consent of their male guardian, what is not said is that there is still the disobedience law which allows a male guardian to stop the women who's under his guardianship from travelling if he considers it as direspect towards him. Men still have veto over the freedoms granted and only privileged women can love these new freedoms.

Do you mean Bin Salman separates between social and cultural freedoms with restrictions and oppressions in politics?

What I mean is that political freedoms are non existent under MBS and social reforms are not deep, not institutionalised and are not for everyone.

Can we conclude in Saudi asking for your rights is a rebellion against the ruler?

It is even considered as terrorism now! Lujain was sentenced in the terrorism court for her activism.

Basim Naim, member of Hamas' Bureau for International Relations. (Albalad.co)

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