Trial of 6 female activists kicks off in Riyadh: Source

            RIYADH (AA) – The trial of six female rights activists kicked off in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, according to an Arabic-language Twitter account run by anonymous rights advocates.</p>  <p><br></p>  <p>“At this moment, the detained Saudi women -- Nouf Abdul Aziz, Maysa al-Zahrani, Amal al-Harbi, Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef -- are being tried,” the account asserted in a Wednesday tweet. </p>  <p><br></p>  <p>Devoted to covering the plight of detained Saudi female activists, the account -- which has thousands of followers -- said the defendants were being tried “in closed-door sessions of Riyadh’s Criminal Court”.<br>

While Riyadh has yet to comment on the assertions made in the tweets, the Saudi authorities typically stress their full adherence to “the rule of law and respect for human rights”.

The six women were arrested in May of last year on charges of “harming the country’s interests”.

On March 2, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had raised the issue of the detained activists — who some rights groups say may have been subject to torture — with Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir.

US House committee urges Saudi Arabia to release doctor

            By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - The top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee called on Saudi Arabia Thursday to release a Saudi-American who was reportedly detained and tortured in prison. </p>  <p>“We are deeply concerned by reports that Dr. Walid Fitaihi, a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen in Saudi custody, has been tortured,&quot; Chairman Eliot Engel and Ranking Member Michael McCaul said in a joint statement.  </p>  <p>&quot;Torture and coercion of all prisoners must end. We call on Saudi Arabia to immediately release Dr. Fitaihi and allow him to travel outside Saudi Arabia,&quot; they added. </p>  <p>The New York Times reported last week that Fitaihi was detained in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in November 2017. He told a friend that he was dragged into a room at the hotel, where he was stripped and tortured with electric shocks in a session that lasted about an hour, according to the Times. </p>  <p>Fitaihi, 54, is one of dozens of people who remain imprisoned under the pretext of what the Saudi government calls a crackdown on corruption in the Kingdom. He has not been charged, nor has he faced trial. </p>  <p>His detention and torture took place amid deeply strained U.S.-Saudi ties over the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the ongoing Riyadh-led air campaign in Yemen. </p>  <p>Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 last year. After initially denying any role in his disappearance, Saudi Arabia eventually acknowledged Khashoggi was killed in its diplomatic facility, blaming his death on a rogue rendition operation that went awry. </p>  <p>That explanation, however, has been met with skepticism by many, including congressional Republicans and Democrats who dismiss the notion Khashoggi could have been killed without the approval of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Daesh child suspects 'tortured' in Iraq: HRW

By Ibrahim Saleh

BAGHDAD (AA) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday accused the Iraqi authorities of arbitrarily arresting and torturing hundreds of children suspected of affiliation with the Daesh terrorist group.

"The prosecutions are often based on dubious accusations and forced confessions obtained through torture," the New York-based rights group said in a statement.

The Iraqi authorities usually deny such accusations by international human rights organizations and assert on compliance with the constitution.

"Children accused of affiliation with ISIS [Daesh] are being detained, and often tortured and prosecuted, regardless of their actual level of involvement with the group," Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for HRW, said.

Becker warned against "lifelong negative consequences for many of these children".

"International law recognizes children recruited by armed groups primarily as victims who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society," HRW said.

Shortly after its sudden appearance in mid-2014, the notorious terrorist group overran vast swathes of territory in northern Syria and northern and western Iraq.

In late 2017, Baghdad declared victory over Daesh following a three-year war that ended with the fall of Mosul, the group’s last remaining stronghold in Iraq.

‘Saudi Arabia should release women activists’

            By Bayram Altug</p>  <p>GENEVA (AA) - Saudi Arabia should release all detained women’s rights activists immediately and unconditionally, international human rights experts said Monday.</p>  <p>They said the Kingdom should also investigate torture allegations.</p>  <p>“We note a failure to launch independent investigations into allegations of torture in Saudi Arabia,” Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN special rapporteur on human rights, said at the panel “Saudi Arabia: Time for Accountability” during the 40th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.</p>  <p>Michel Forst, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said, “The work of defenders doesn’t go against national security.”</p>  <p>Saudi Arabia use electrocution, flogging and sexual assault as torture methods on detained human rights defenders, said Zaynab Al-Khawaja of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. </p>  <p>&quot;All detained women's human rights defenders should be released immediately without any condition. Perpetrators who tortured them have to face justice.”</p>  <p>Al-Khawaja said she was detained several times while campaigning for women’s rights in Bahrain and was released because of international pressure.</p>  <p>“We don’t want human rights defenders to just be released but to be able to continue to do the work they are doing,” she added.</p>  <p>Omaima Al Najjar, an exiled Saudi activist living in London, said Saudi Arabia is distracting the international community from human rights abuses with “cosmetic reforms”.</p>  <p>“Although women can now drive, the women who campaigned for this change are still in prison,” she said.</p>  <p>Al-Khawaja told Anadolu Agency that anyone who wants to improve human rights in the country has been declared an enemy.</p>  <p>“They take naked photographs of women detainees. Because they know our culture well and how to hurt women. That’s why women should be protected,” she said.</p>  <p>Al-Khawaja also said the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is giving Saudi Arabia and Bahrain a green light for the sake of economic relations.

Syrian mother recalls horrors of Assad regime prison

            By Meryem Goktas</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) – A woman formerly jailed by the Syrian regime is hoping to raise awareness about the plight of those still languishing in its prisons by recounting the human rights violations and abuse she was exposed to.</p>  <p>Speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency, Fatima Tlas recalled her arrest and torture during her 60 days of incarceration.</p>  <p>Tlas was arrested in April 2013 at a regime checkpoint while she was traveling to Jordan to visit her mother.</p>  <p>“I was on the way with my three children -- aged 10, six and two – when I was arrested,” she said.</p>  <p>“I had to beg them [regime soldiers] not to take my children with me [to prison] when they arrested me. I left my children behind with the driver, who dropped them off at my mother’s place.”</p>  <p>The 33-year-old was brought to a military prison in As-Suwayda city located in southwestern Syria close to the border with Jordan.</p>  <p>&quot;In fact, there was no clear reason [for my arrest]. They claimed I was arrested for being part of a family which opposed the regime in Syria,&quot; she said.</p>  <p>Tlas said her father and brother were killed in 2012 for opposing the regime.</p>  <p>“My only crime was to be a member of this family,” she added.</p>  <p> </p>  <p>- Prison conditions</p>  <p><br>

Tlas said that during her time in prison, she shared a crowded cell with around 50 people.

“They would come to our cell to pick us up and beat and torture us as a daily routine.

“They would only allow us to go to the toilet for a very short time — one time during the day. After that short time, you were forced to go back to the cell whether you finished your needs or not.

“Before that, I had to stay in the toilet for one week, as there was no space at all. Later, they brought me to the cell,” she said.

While in the cell, she would regularly hear prison guards torturing male inmates in the early morning hours.

“We would hear how the guards would talk to each other and say ‘This one is finished. He’s dead’, and how the bodies would be loaded into vehicles and brought somewhere.”

“We heard the sounds of torture and conversations between the guards every day,” she added.

“When I entered the prison, I never thought I would get out of there.”

Tlas said that one day, prison guards told her she could be freed as part of a prisoner exchange.

“One day, they took me and threw me out of a car somewhere on a street, without giving me any document which could prove that I was released without any charges,” she said.

Fear of being rearrested led Tlas to flee the country to her mother’s house in Jordan. She later fled to Turkey.

– Call to international community

Speaking about the fear of not being reunited with her family and the psychological and physical torture she endured during her detention, Tlas called on the international community to save those who “continue to live in this hell".

“I am asking the international community to listen to their conscience,” she said.

Noting that women and children were arrested and held in prisons without any legal grounds, Tlas called on “those who are responsible” to act for their immediate release.

“I am calling on them [international community] to take action to ensure the freedom of children and women who remain in these prisons for many years,” she said.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.

According to UN figures, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or displaced in the conflict, mainly by regime airstrikes in opposition-held areas.

UN urges UAE to release terminally ill prisoner

            By Bayram Altug</p>    <p>GENEVA (AA) - The UN on Tuesday called on the United Arab Emirates to release a terminally ill prisoner so she could &quot;live her final days in dignity.&quot;</p>    <p>Human rights experts led by Dainius Puras, the UN special rapporteur on health, issued a joint statement condemning Alia Abdulnoor's imprisonment.</p>    <p>The statement said Abdulnoor had helped campaigns to raise money for women and children in need in war-ravaged Syria before being arrested on charges of terrorist financing in 2015.</p>    <p>The statement stressed that her breast cancer had reached its final stage, spreading to vital organs,  necessitating her transfer to a hospital.</p>    <p>“We would like to remind the United Arab Emirates that torture and ill-treatment is universally and absolutely prohibited and that any statement made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence,” the experts said.</p>    <p>“We call on the authorities to release Ms. Abdulnour and to allow her to live her last days of life in dignity and with her family at home,” they added.

Survivor of Syrian regime prisons recounts ordeal

            By Meryem Goktas</p>  <p>ISTANBUL (AA) - A former inmate of Syrian regime prisons recounted the torture and abuse she faced during her detention.</p>  <p>Speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency, Lula Halilaga -- a pseudonym to protect her identity -- recalled the torture and sexual violence she had to endure during her three years of incarceration.</p>  <p>Her ordeal began in 2013 with a knock on her door by regime soldiers while she was breastfeeding her baby.</p>  <p>It was the first time that Halilaga, a mother of three, was arrested and forced to leave her children behind. She was released shortly after, only to discover that her husband had also been detained.</p>  <p>Halilaga was later arrested in Aleppo, where she was transferred to Adra prison in Damascus after being moved among several detention centers.</p>  <p>During her three years behind bars, Halilaga said the regime soldiers tortured her on a daily basis using various methods, both physical and psychological.</p>  <p>&quot;We were tortured for many hours in [Adra] prison every day. They were hanging us on hangers and would beat us with wet sticks,&quot; she said.</p>  <p>&quot;They would beat us until we passed out and would torture us with electric shocks. Then they would take us to our cells and wait until we regained consciousness. This continued on a daily basis.”

– Husband died in same prison

Recalling her suffering, Halilaga said another form of pain was seeing her husband broken by torture in the same prison.

She said regime soldiers ensured that she would see her husband suffering.

"When I saw him in the prison, I couldn't recognize him. He was in very bad shape," she said, adding the regime officers also harassed her in front of him to make him talk.

"My husband had not been able to stand the daily torture anymore. When I saw him at the prison for the last time, I saw in his eyes that he would not be able to hold on to life any longer," she said.

“One day later, I received the message that he died.”

– Human rights abuses

Speaking about the other human rights abuses she witnessed in the prisons, Halilaga said the Syrian regime tortured not only men and women but also children and the elderly.

She said they would gather the prisoners together in one area, where they would witness how regime soldiers would strip men naked and torture them.

"We witnessed how some of them were tortured to death.

"Children under the age of 12 would be tortured to make their mothers talk. Likewise, the elderly were tortured to obtain information on their children who joined the opposition," she added.

– Buying her freedom

After spending three years in various prisons, Halilaga was brought to a court, where she was sentenced to another six years.

Her family offered a large amount of money as a bribe for her freedom, she said, noting this was the only way to rescue her.

After she was released, however, Halilaga said she had to flee to Turkey as regime officers threatened to arrest her again if she did not pay more money.

She said she had to leave one of her children with her in-laws as they were living in a regime-held area which she could not enter out of fear of being arrested again.

Noting that she survived all the pain and suffering, Halilaga highlighted that those who remain in the prisons continue to suffer in even more painful circumstances than herself.

Calling on the international community to take action to secure the release of those who remain in Syrian prisons, she said the Conscience Movement, an international non-governmental organization (NGO), is an important initiative to shed light on the reality of those still facing torture.

According to a statement by the NGO, more than 13,500 women have been jailed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, while more than 7,000 women remain in detention, where they are subject to torture, rape and sexual violence.

To raise awareness of the plight of imprisoned women, the Conscience Movement is calling on the international community to get their suffering on the international agenda for their immediate and unconditional release.

It is being assisted by more than 2,000 NGOs from around the world and thousands of supporters in 110 countries.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in early 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.

According to UN figures, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or displaced in the conflict, mainly by regime airstrikes in opposition-held areas.

'Saudi Arabia’s treatment of activists may be torture’

            By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal</p>  <p>LONDON (AA) – Saudi Arabia’s treatment of detained rights activists could amount to torture, a senior British lawmaker said Monday.</p>  <p>Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP and chairman of the Detention Review Panel (DRP), said the panel of MPs and senior lawyers asked for Riyadh’s cooperation as it examines widespread concerns over the detention of Saudi Arabian women’s rights activists.</p>  <p>Blunt said the Saudi authorities failed to respond to their two formal requests to visit the activists. </p>  <p>The DRP named eight female as well as four male activists who are under detention.</p>  <p>“Our conclusion is that, on the weight of the available evidence, it is almost certain that allegations of mistreatment of these detainees are true,” he said, reiterating the DRP’s findings.</p>  <p>The DRP said in a report Monday that activists are subjected to torture and kept in cruel and inhumane conditions in Saudi Arabia.</p>  <p>“There are reports of a Saudi prosecution process into their mistreatment,” Blunt said, but “the allegations could amount to sustainable allegations of torture, which is of course a crime of universal jurisdiction”.</p>  <p>Blunt underscored that a “not very open and transparent” trial process is going on in Saudi Arabia regarding the case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.</p>  <p>However, he said the murder of Khashoggi needs to be seen alongside the detention of these detainees and many other democracy and human rights activists in Saudi Arabia.</p>  <p>“All taken together, they send a relentless message that there is no space in Saudi Arabia for an active civil society.</p>  <p> “If you close down that civil society space and no one dares say anything because they might meet the fate of Jamal Khashoggi or these female human rights activists…what message does that send?</p>  <p>  “And if you close down any space for discussion…and criticism of your policies, then beware what is going to happen to your government eventually at the hands of your people.”</p>  <p>He said in the meantime, a state of terror will exist in that public space in Saudi Arabia.</p>  <p> “It is very important that we engage with Saudi Arabia to encourage them to replace and put right what went wrong in 2018.” </p>  <p>- Khashoggi killing</p>  <p><br>    Saudi Arabia came under fresh scrutiny last week after it refused to cooperate with the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.</p>  <p>The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner said last week that an international investigation would &quot;review and evaluate, from a human rights perspective, the circumstances surrounding the killing of Khashoggi&quot;.</p>  <p>The UN team completed a five-day fact-finding mission in Istanbul to investigate Khashoggi’s death but failed to gain access from Saudi officials to their consulate building where Khashoggi was killed by a hit squad sent from Riyadh last fall.</p>  <p>Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that he cannot “understand America's silence when such a horrific attack took place, and even after members of the CIA listened to the recordings we provided&quot;.</p>  <p>&quot;We want everything to be clarified because there is an atrocity, there is a murder,&quot; Erdogan said, speaking to Turkish broadcaster TRT, calling the killing &quot;not an ordinary one&quot;.</p>  <p>Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post, was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 last year.</p>  <p>After producing various contradictory explanations, Riyadh acknowledged he was killed inside the consulate building, blaming the act on a botched rendition operation.</p>  <p>Turkey has sought the extradition of the Saudi citizens involved in the killing as well as a fuller accounting of the killing from Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia tortures female detainees, say UK MPs

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
LONDON (AA) – The female activists are subjected to torture and kept in cruel and inhumane conditions in Saudi Arabia, a report by a cross-party group of British lawmakers said on Monday.
A Detention Review Panel (DRP) of MPs said in a damning report that Saudi officials could be culpable for abuse at “the highest levels…meeting the threshold for the rime of torture under both Saudi and international law”.
The panel’s report said the female activists arrested last spring had been subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, including sleep deprivation, assault, threats to life and solitary confinement.
It said the treatment is likely to amount to torture and if they are not provided with urgent access to medical assistance they are at risk of developing long-term health conditions, adding that the culpability rests not only with direct perpetrators but also those who are responsible for or acquiesce to it.
“The Saudi authorities at the highest levels could, in principle, be responsible for the crime of torture.”
“Our conclusions are stark,” Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, the DRP chairman, said.
“The Saudi women activist detainees have been treated so badly as to sustain an international investigation for torture,” Blunt added.
He said: “Denied proper access to medical care, legal advice or visits from their families, their solitary confinement and mistreatment are severe enough to meet the international definition of torture.
“The supervisory chain of command up to the highest levels of Saudi authority would be responsible for this.”
“When I heard of the arrests, I was, like many people, shocked that it had happened at all,” Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP, on the panel said.
“The torture, in particular, allegations of sexual harassment and threats of rape, are inexcusable,” she added.

– Khashoggi killing
Saudi Arabian administration has come under fresh scrutiny last week after its refusal to cooperate with the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner last week said that an international investigation would "review and evaluate, from a human rights perspective, the circumstances surrounding the killing of [Jamal] Khashoggi."
The UN team completed a five-day fact-finding mission in Istanbul to investigate the death of Saudi journalist Khashoggi but failed to receive access from Saudi officials to their consulate building where Khashoggi was killed by a team of hit squad sent from Riyadh last fall.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that he cannot “understand America's silence when such a horrific attack took place, and even after members of the CIA listened to the recordings we provided."
Speaking to TRT, Erdogan said: "We want everything to be clarified because there is an atrocity, there is a murder," he added, calling the killing "not an ordinary one."
Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post, was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 last year.
After producing various contradictory explanations, Riyadh acknowledged he was killed inside the consulate building, blaming the act on a botched rendition operation.
Turkey has sought the extradition of the Saudi citizens involved in the killing as well as a fuller accounting of the killing from Riyadh.

UK MPs request to visit detained female Saudi activists

            By Muhammad Mussa <br>

LONDON (AA) – A cross-party panel of British parliament members and lawyers has written an open letter to the Saudi Arabian ambassador in London asking permission to visit female activists detained in the Kingdom.

In the letter to Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz on Wednesday, they expressed their concern for the imprisoned activists and requested permission to check on their wellbeing.

The group includes Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who chairs the panel, Labour MP Dr. Paul Williams, who worked with refugees, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, the first MP of Palestinian heritage, Dr. Tim Moloney QC, a leading British lawyer, and Tayab Ali, a senior partner at ITN Solicitors representing a detained Saudi activist.

“You will be aware that there have been some serious allegations made about the treatment of Women Activist Detainees in Saudi Arabia,” Blunt said in the letter.

“I have been asked by ITN solicitors, on behalf of a Saudi Arabian citizen (the Client), to convene together an independent panel of UK parliamentarians to review the conditions of these Women Activist Detainees (the Detainees) currently in detention in Saudi Arabia,” he added.

“I am therefore writing to you as Chair of the Detention Review Panel for Detained Women Activists who have been detained and/or imprisoned by the authorities in Saudi Arabia. We would like your assistance in arranging a visit to Saudi Arabia to visit and speak with these Detainees.”

The letter also said the panel will conduct an independent review of the conditions of the detained women activists and will inquire into the conditions in which they are living and how they are being treated. Once the review has been conducted, its findings will be released in a report.

Among the detainees the panel hopes to visit are those named in Human Rights Watch’s November 2018 report, including Loujain al‐Hathloul, Aziza al‐Yousef, Eman al‐Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al‐Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al‐Saada and Hatoon al‐Fassi, all of whom are women’s rights activists.

The panel highlighted their concern over allegations made about the treatment of the activists and that such allegations that have been documented by human rights organizations “appear to be credible, but we acknowledge that the Saudi Arabian government says that the allegations are unfounded”.

They include torture with electric shocks, being tied down to a bed and whipping with a rope, sexual harassment, threats of rape and assault, threats of the death penalty or life imprisonment for “treason” and denial of access to family members or independent lawyers.

“The allegations made and recorded by these human rights advocates are extremely damaging to the credibility of the progressive reforms announced recently by the Saudi Arabian government,” said the letter.

“We hope that following our review, we will be able to assist Saudi Arabia in regaining confidence from the international community that its commitment to progressive reform and the protection of the rights of peaceful pro‐reform activists is both credible and sincere.”