Middle East

Prominent Saudi women’s rights activist on hunger strike in detention, says family

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, held in Saudi Arabia since 2018, began a new hunger strike on Monday over the conditions of her detention, her family said.

Hathloul’s sister Lina told Reuters that the main demand was to be allowed regular contact with her family. In late August Hathloul went on a six-day hunger strike after authorities at Riyadh’s al-Hair prison cut off contact for over four months.

Hathloul, 31, who was arrested along with at last a dozen other women’s rights activists, had since March only been permitted limited contact with her family, her sister said, including a March 23 visit, a phone call on April 19 and a visit on August 31.

Her parents were allowed to see her on Monday.

“Yesterday during the visit Loujain told (our parents) she is exhausted of being mistreated and deprived from hearing her family’s voices,” Lina al-Hathloul said. “She told them she will start a hunger strike starting yesterday evening until they allow her regular calls again.”

The Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The case has drawn global criticism and provoked anger in European capitals and the U.S. Congress following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Saudi Arabia temporarily freed some of the women’s rights activists who were rounded up as part of a broader crackdown on dissent, while others remain detained as sporadic closed-court sessions continue.

Rights group say at least three of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault.

Saudi officials have denied torture allegations and said the arrests were made on suspicion of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad. Few charges have been made public.

Charges against Hathloul include communicating with 15 to 20 foreign journalists in Saudi Arabia, attempting to apply for a job at the United Nations, and attending digital privacy training, her brother has said.

Scores of other activists, intellectuals and clerics have been arrested separately in recent years in an apparent bid to stamp out possible opposition, even as de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pushes reforms to open up the kingdom.


Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

FILE PHOTO: Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture. Marieke Wijntjes/Handout via REUTERS

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