Posted on November 2020

Prisoner of Conscience in the MBS-era: Murder, Brutality and Sexual assault – a new report from Grant Liberty

Political prisoners in Saudi Arabia are being tortured, sexually assaulted and even murdered. Jamal Khashoggi’s killing was not an aberration. Behind the expensive PR is a regime that systematically abuses activists by the hundred, against its own rules and in violation of the international treaties it has signed.

For the first time, we detail 311 known prisoners of conscience in the MBS-era. 53 have been tortured; 6 sexual assaulted; 14 forced into hunger strike. We detail 23 women’s rights activists – 11 still in prison; 54 journalists; 22 arrested for crimes committed as children – 5 of those put to death, a further 13 facing the death penalty for crimes committed as minors; and 4 who have died in custody.

Given the control the Saudi regime retains over information and free expression in the Kingdom these figures are all very likely to be an underestimate – they are a snapshot of the known abuse.

The report begins with first person accounts by family members of those whose loved ones remain in prison – Lina al-Hathloul (whose sister, the celebrated women’s rights campaigner Loujain al-Hathloul, is on hunger strike at time of writing in protest at her barbaric treatment), Areej al-Sadhan, Abudllah al-Odah and Abdullah al-Ghamdi. Their stories are a stain on the conscience of the world.

This report is launched at an absolutely critical juncture for Saudi Arabia and prisoners of conscience:

  • Saudi Arabia hosts the G20 on Saturday 21 November
  • MBS has lost a key ally in Donald Trump; President-elect Biden has stated the Kingdom should be treated as the ‘Pariah they are’[1]
  • The Saudi ambassador to the UK has already signalled that the state is considering releasing prisoners in the face of international pressure[2]
  • As the MBS regime works towards it Vision 2030, and pivoting to a post-oil economy, the country will be forced to compete with the rest of the world in areas such as tourism where reputation and soft power matter.

In this report we tell the stories of the beheading of a young man because of a Whatsapp message he sent at the age of 16, of the young people facing death for crimes committed at ages as young as 9; we show how simply calling for peace in a tweet can lead to the death penalty; and we list those who have deid in custody in suspicious circumstances.

We detail the depths of industrial scale physical and psychological torture from the widespread use of electric shocks to beatings and even sexual abuse. We demonstrate the extensive use of prolonged solitary confinement and the repeated enforced separation of prisoners from their legal teams.

We show how women’s rights activists have been targeted even after the laws they campaigned to change have been amended, the waves of arrests that have seen religious leaders and journalists silenced, and the despicable targeting of the family members of activists – innocent even of the political campaigning for which their loved ones have angered the authorities.

Ultimately, this report proves that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was not an aberration for the MBS regime – it represents standard operating practice. MBS might as well stand for murder, brutality and sexual assault.

Lucy Rae, Grant Liberty spokesperson said,

“This report details abuse on an industrial scale. Murder, torture, sexual assault – all of the worst human rights violations imaginable are here.

“The rest of the world needs to wake up – Saudi Arabia must not be welcomed into the community of respectable nations whilst it tortures, abuses and murders its own people. 

“And the rest of the world needs to stand up – starting with the G20. Through international conferences, and global sports events the Saudi regime seeks to make others complicit in their crimes. At the very least they should demand the of prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia as the price of their attendance at the G20 in Riyadh.”

In the report Lina al-Hathloul, sister of Loujain al-Hathloul, writes

My sister is an award-winning women’s rights activist, she has been nominated for the Nobel Prize and she is celebrated all around the world. Except at home in Saudi Arabia, where she languishes in a maximum-security prison. In prison, my sister has been tortured and degraded, and sexually abused. As long as women inside of Saudi Arabia cannot safely speak, it is the duty of the international community to raise its voice on their behalf. 

Areej al-Sadhan, sister of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan:

We hear stories that my brother has been forced into hunger strike due to the inhumane treatment. Since he was detained, he was denied any contact with us, except for a onetime 1-minute call 9 months ago, that came after increasing international pressure. He was never allowed to call us again. We know he is suffering. The last 2 and a half years has been a living hell. I miss my brother terribly. He is a compassionate, caring man with a passion for helping others. We just want him to be released and come back safe. He doesn’t deserve to be treated like this. No one does.

Abdullah al-Ghamdi, son of Aida al-Ghamdi:

My mother, Aida Al-Ghamdi and two of my brothers were arrested. No explanation has ever been provided but there is no denying the truth. They were arrested not because they had committed a crime, but because of my activism. They were beaten and had cigarettes put out on their skin. Now, I am asking the international community to show they are genuinely committed to human rights. They must demand that Saudi Arabia release my mother, brothers, and all political prisoners.

Abdullah al-Odah, son of Salman al-Odah:

My father faces the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. His crime? He tweeted an innocuous message to his 14 million twitter followers wishing an end to the diplomatic standoff with Qatar. They want to kill my father. If they do, it will be state-sanctioned murder. 

Notes to Editors

The full report is attached


This report focusses on the plight of prisoners of conscience arrested in the Mohammed bin Salman era, and those whose cases continue.

To produce this report we have analysed available data from NGOs, government and international agencies, and conducted direct interviews with family members of a number of prisoners.

We have heavily leaned on the research and publications of friends across civil society in order to bring together all available data. In particular we would like to thank organisations whose work made this report possible, including:

  • Amnesty International
  • Human Rights Watch
  • MENA Rights Group
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists
  • European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights
  • Front Line Defenders
  • Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
  • Gulf Centre for Human Rights

Although we have done all we can to ensure that our information is correct and up to date it must be stressed that the control the Saudi regime retains over information and free expression in the Kingdom means that the full picture is permanently obscured. As such, the data we present is likely to be an underestimate of the full scale of the barbaric treatment of prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia.

The full spreadsheet is attached.

Human Rights Violations and Categories of Prisoner


In the MBS era, prisoners of conscience have been subject to a range of abusive practices, often in contravention of both international and Saudi law.

We detail the range of abuse providing case studies for the most egregious including:

Torture: Khaled al-Omar, jailed again for reporting the abuse he suffered in prison

Sexual Assault: Nouf Abdulaziz, writer and women’s rights activist (one of 6 sexually abused)

Death Penalty: Muhammed Essam Al-Faraj, facing death for crimes committed as a minor

Solitary confinement: Martaja Qureiris, arrested at 13 for crimes committed at 10, he has spent more than 5% of his life in solitary

Hunger Strike: ACPRA 7, members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association

Categories of known prisoner

And we outline the various groups held as prisoners of conscience, we detailed case studies for each major group including:

Women: Loujain al-Hathloul, celebrated campaigner and Nobel Prize nominee on hunger strike at time of writing

Journalists: Turki al-Jasser, not heard from since his arrest in March 2018, there are unconfirmed reports that he died from torture in November 2018

Those arrested for crimes committed as minors: Ali al-Nimr facing death after 8 years in prison for the ‘crime’ of attending a funeral

Those who have died in custody: Journalist Saleh al-Shehi, the royal aide and military leader Major General Ali al-Qahtani, the poet and ACPRA founder Abdullah alHamid and the former dean of the Quran Faculty at the University of Medina Ahmad al-Ammari

Grant Liberty is the advocacy arm of the charity Forgotten Women. Our funding comes from approximately 2,000 individual donors

For more information call Peter Starkings 07740 347 362

December – Loujain sentencing response

Grant Liberty spokesperson, Lucy Rae said,

“The conviction and sentencing of Loujain al-Hathloul is an international outrage. The murderers of Jamal Khashoggi are determined to destroy another voice for freedom.

“Loujain is a peaceful campaigner for the basic freedoms the rest of the world takes for granted. In response she has been imprisoned, tortured and abused by the Saudi authorities – yet they call her the terrorist.

“It is the Saudi regime that rules by terror. The international community must not let this stand. If human rights mean anything more than words on a page – it’s time for real action. Loujain must be released – and as Joe Biden has said, it’s time for the rest of the world to treat Saudi Arabia as the pariah it is until it ends these sickening abuses.”

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