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Rights groups, British MPs call for access to Saudi detainees

Rights groups, British MPs call for access to Saudi detainees
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RIYADH (Reuters) - Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Friday called on Saudi Arabia to allow independent monitors to meet detainees, including women's rights activists who were allegedly tortured and prominent figures held in an anti-corruption campaign.

A group of British lawmakers threatened to publish their own report detailing allegations of mistreatment unless Riyadh grants them access to the women detainees by next week, British media reported a day earlier.

International scrutiny of Saudi Arabia's human rights record and its role in the Yemen war has intensified in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate last October.

The U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions told Reuters on Thursday she would travel to Turkey next week to head an "independent international inquiry" into the murder.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has denied allegations that he ordered the hit, is pushing ambitious reforms in a bid to transform the Saudi economy and society. But they have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent and more assertive regional policies.

The Gulf Arab state, an absolute monarchy where public protests and political parties are banned, says it does not have political prisoners and denies torture allegations. Officials have said monitoring of activists is needed to ensure social stability.

Despite ending a ban on women driving last year, over a dozen women's rights activists were arrested starting in May, most of whom had campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system.

Amnesty said it had documented 10 cases of torture and abuse among while the activists were held at an undisclosed location last summer. Reuters previously reported that at least four of them had been subjected to sexual harassment, electrocution and flogging.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said monitors should also get access to princes and businessmen still being detained after scores of the country's business elite were rounded up in November 2017 on the crown prince's orders in a campaign that critics decried as a shakedown and power play.

Several of those detainees, including Amr Dabbagh and Bakr bin Laden, were released earlier this week, but others still believed to be held include former Riyadh governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah, Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Mohammed al-Amoudi, and former economy minister Adel Fakieh.

HRW said the kingdom's Human Rights Commission and public prosecutor, both government entities, lacked the independence to conduct a credible and transparent investigation.

“Saudi Arabia’s internal investigations have little chance of getting at the truth of the treatment of detainees, including prominent citizens, or of holding anyone responsible for crimes accountable,” deputy Middle East director Michael Page said.

Reuters has reported that Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser to Prince Mohammed who was fired for his role in the Khashoggi murder, was personally oversaw the torture of at least one women activist and the interrogation of some detainees in the anti-corruption campaign.

Reuters has been unable to reach Qahtani since he was sacked in October.

(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Alison Williams)

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