The Saudi Crown Prince Gets a Pass on Khashoggi at the G20


Mohammed bin Salman’s presence at the meeting signals a desire to put the Khashoggi affair behind him. Global leaders will probably let him.

When leaders of the Group of 20 nations meet Friday in Argentina, they will discuss the global economy, climate and energy, and efforts to fight corruption. One item that will almost certainly not be on their agenda—despite the presence in their midst of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—is the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad.

And Saudi Arabia is not alone in the G20 for its casual attitude toward human rights. Turkey, the leading critic of the Saudi investigation into Khashoggi’s killing, has more journalists in jail than any other country and can hardly be taken seriously as a defender of the free press or human rights. China imprisons its dissidents and has interned its Uighur Muslim population in camps. Russia uses assassination as a technique to rid itself of dissidents. All three are members of the G20, as are others with human-rights concerns.
Put another way, the G20 is not the Group of Eight, which suspended Russia after its invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, and so became the G7. Nor is it the European Union, which has criticized members such as Hungary and Poland for their perceived lack of commitment to shared European values. The G20 is primarily an economic club, a mission from which it rarely strays. It is happy to overlook messy internal political issues—especially ones involving a leader who is widely seen as the face of modern Saudi Arabia, which is scheduled to host the G20 summit in 2020.

The Saudi crown prince, widely known as MbS, was named heir apparent last year and quickly announced significant changes in the kingdom, including allowing women to drive. But his role has come under scrutiny following an anti-corruption campaign that included the detention and alleged torture of prominent princes; profligate spending; and the arrest of critics of the Saudi government. The Khashoggi killing was a turning point for many, with one notable exception: President Donald Trump.
He has essentially given the crown prince a free pass over Khashoggi’s killing, despite the CIA’s reported assessment that the Saudi heir apparent ordered the hit. Additionally, Trump has reiterated that the U.S.-Saudi partnership, which encompasses energy, security, and regional cooperation, is far too vital for something like a journalist’s killing to dampen it. Absent a strong U.S. position on the issue, it is all but certain that the Saudis have a get-out-of-jail-free card at the G20.
“What’s really striking today is the fact that tyrants and despots can run rampant in an era in which the United States, in particular, is not serving as a champion for freedom of the press,” said Stewart Patrick, who studies international institutions at the Council on Foreign Relations.
In the past, the United States might have managed to insert language about human rights and free expression into the G20’s final communiqué. But the Trump administration’s actions show that it will not put those issues at the forefront, and other Western members of the club, such as Britain, are unlikely to criticize the Saudis publicly either.
If there is any criticism at all, it could come from Canada, which is embroiled in a bitter diplomatic dispute with Saudi Arabia over Ottawa’s criticism of the kingdom’s human-rights record. Germany, which had a brief but similar dispute with Riyadh, could chime in, as could France, whose president, Emmanuel Macron, has emerged as a vocal advocate of liberal values. (Argentine officials are reportedly looking into possible criminal charges against MbS following a complaint lodged by Human Rights Watch; it is highly unlikely, however, that the Saudi crown prince will face any action, given that he can claim diplomatic immunity.) Trump is not scheduled to meet MbS at the G20, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t.
Even if the G20 doesn’t publicly shun MbS, it is quite likely that some of its members will broach Khashoggi’s killing with him in private.
“Even those Western leaders, of which there are many, who don’t want Jamal Khashoggi’s murder to interfere with their relations with Saudi Arabia will feel the need to raise it with MbS,” said Robert Malley, who served as an adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations and now heads the International Crisis Group. “They simply can’t afford to come out of the meeting and, when asked by the media, say they didn’t bring it up.”

Western countries now find themselves performing a delicate balancing act: normalizing their relationship with Saudi Arabia without fully normalizing their relationship with MbS. The Saudis, however, have other ideas. In previous years, they sent lower-ranking ministers as their representatives to the G20, so MbS’s presence in Buenos Aires is hardly routine. Indeed, it signals that the Saudis, after looking at the relatively muted international response to Khashoggi’s killing, are normalizing the crown prince’s role.
“This is a bold effort to force the issue,” Jon Alterman, who studies the Middle East at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., said at a recent event. “If you’re going to work with Saudi Arabia, you will be working with the crown prince.”
KRISHNADEV CALAMUR is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers global news. He is a former editor and reporter at NPR and the author of Murder in Mumbai.


An unfair election in Bahrain will not satisfy the Shia majority


As their political freedom shrinks, the lot of Shias grows worse

Ask officials in Bahrain about their parliamentary election and they are eager to tout the numbers. Around 350 candidates will compete for 40 seats on November 24th. A record 44 are women. Many are running as independents rather than representing the hidebound religious parties. One statistic is omitted from the list: the number of opposition parties is zero.
In 2010 nearly half the parliament was controlled by al-Wefaq, an opposition group that catered to the disgruntled Shia majority. Then came 2011, when Bahrainis joined the wave of Arab spring protests, demanding political freedoms and greater equality from the Sunni monarchy. The government crushed the uprising with the help of troops from its Gulf neighbours. Nearly 50 people were killed.
Now al-Wefaq is banned and its leader, Ali Salman, is in prison on trumped-up charges of spying for Qatar. A secular leftist group, Wa’ad, was also dissolved. Former members of al-Wefaq and Wa’ad are not permitted to stand for election. Sunni Islamist parties are still free to operate, but they hold few seats in parliament. International election monitors are banned.
As political freedom shrinks, inequality has been exacerbated by an economic crisis. Though the non-oil sector generates 80% of gdp, oil provides 70% of government revenue. When prices crashed earlier this decade Bahrain’s fiscal deficit soared, hitting 18.4% of gdp in 2015. The government has since cut spending. Electricity and water subsidies were reduced for expats and wealthy Bahrainis. An early-retirement scheme, launched last month, aims to trim the public payroll. More than 9,000 workers have applied for it.
These measures have helped, though this year’s deficit is still projected to be 8.9% of gdp. A new 5% value-added tax, due to be introduced in January, will raise more revenue. But it will also strain families already struggling to pay their bills. Wages are almost flat and the median monthly private-sector income, 416 dinars ($1,106), is 41% below its public-sector counterpart. The higher-paying government jobs tend to go to Sunnis. Shias are mostly excluded from the security forces.
Shias, who often live in poorer areas, also bear the brunt of Bahrain’s housing shortage. One minister has proposed importing cheap prefabricated homes. But there is little money for that. Public debt has soared to 88% of gdp and foreign reserves, at $2.3bn, are barely enough to cover a month of imports. In October Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (uae) had to step in with $10bn in aid.
But as they give, they also take away. Bahrain has thrived as a banking hub and a tourist trap for Saudis. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now trying to build up their own financial centres (Dubai, in the uae, already has one). The Saudi crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, has allowed movie theatres, concerts and other diversions in a bid to keep Saudi tourists (and their money) at home.
Bahrain’s banks still employ 14,000 people, most of them nationals. Saudi Arabia’s new nightlife cannot compete with that of Manama, where bars serve alcohol and the sexes mingle freely. But firms are nervous. Bahrain has long relied on its wealthier neighbours for business and charity. Now they are also competition.
One thing is certain. The people of Bahrain will have little say over how it deals with these economic challenges.
This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline "Miffed in Manama"


Reformist talk, repressive action: Stop the assault on Saudi women activists, online and off


Sarah Al-Otaibi for IFEX IFEX 26 November 2018 

Sarah Al-Otaibi is a women's rights activist based in the United Kingdom. Her insights on female empowerment in Saudi Arabia have been published by "Women's March", "The New Arab", and "Middle East Eye". 

Saudi Arabia has pursued an aggressive PR campaign over the past year marketing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as a proponent of women's rights.Electronic billboards and news headlines - bought and paid for by the Saudi monarchy - have highlighted the stories of 'trailblazing' Saudi women, now free to drive Formula One cars and become air traffic controllers thanks to MBS. 

Israa Al-Ghomgham, however, never made the cut. She stands to become the first woman in Saudi Arabia to face capital punishment for human rights activism - one 'first' that has received scant media attention. 

Al-Ghomgham and her husband were arrested in December 2015 for their documentation of protests in Qatif. The region, located in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, is home to a sizeable Shi'a population - a community treated as second-class citizens by the Sunni monarchy. Saudi authorities accused Al-Ghomgham of 'inflaming public opinion', 'hostility towards the regime', and 'providing moral support to rioters'. Public prosecutor Saud Al-Mujib pressed for the death penalty as punishment. 

Mohammed bin Salman's 'reformist' image has only recently come under scrutiny, following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The West has ignored the dark precedent that al-Ghomgham's execution could set. What will be the fate of Loujain Al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Hatoon al-Fassi, and the scores of other Saudi feminists detained for their women's rights advocacy? 

The Saudi regime has never been one to tolerate opposition. But under MBS, the dangers that dissidents face have worsened considerably. It is not merely the Kingdom's willingness to kill its critics - as in Khashoggi's assassination and al-Ghomgham's slated execution - but the Orwellian atmosphere that it has created in once safe spaces. 

Before being sacked as advisor to the Royal Court, Saud Al-Qahtani commanded a veritable army of 'electronic flies'. This mix of sock-puppets and bot accounts identify, track, and target Saudi activists on Twitter and other outlets. Their method is simple enough: profile activists gaining traction on social media, monitor their activity, and attack when and where they are vulnerable. 

Take the case of Montréal-based activist Omar Abdulaziz, who experienced this during Saudi Arabia's recent diplomatic spat with Canada. On 2 August, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had tweeted her concerns about the arrest of Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed activist blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife and children live in Canada. Global Affairs Canada posted a tweet the next day, urging Saudi Arabia to release the civil and women's rights activists. The kingdom responded with a series of angry tweets, and initiated strong retaliatory measures against the country. 

On 5 August, Abdulaziz composed several tweets criticising Riyadh's position. A mere two days later, he informed his Twitter followers that authorities had threatened to detain his two brothers and several of his friends in Saudi Arabia - who were arrested, sure enough, weeks later. 

Despite the social media outlet's denials, some reports suggest that Twitter has helped Saudi Arabia hunt down dissenters. An anonymous source of British outlet Metroconfirmed that Twitter's Dubai office provided information on journalist Turki al Jasser - who ran Kashkool, a handle that exposed corruption within the royal family - at the request of Saudi officials earlier this year. Al Jasser is now deceased, having been'tortured to death' while in custody - the second journalist killed in over a month. 

Online repression - coupled with Twitter's tacit support of it - led activist Manal Al-Sharif to quit social media entirely. A proponent of women's rights and an outspoken feminist, Al-Sharif deleted her Twitter handle during a lecture at SingularityU Nordic. "If the same tools we joined for our liberation are being used to oppress us and undermine us… I'm out of these platforms," she asserted, as she deactivated her account. 

And though some criticised Al-Sharif for her decision, her fears are anything but unfounded. Aside from the ruthless manner in which Saudi Arabia hunts down activists on social media, reports have surfaced that jailed women's rights activists are experiencing psychological, physical, and sexual abuse in prison. 

With the grave danger that Saudi activists face on the Twittersphere and beyond, human rights groups are taking action. Since May 2018, Women's March Global has amplified a petition calling on the United Nations to press Saudi Arabia to free jailed activists. 

On 11 September, Human Rights Watch launched a campaign aimed at car manufacturers to halt business with the Kingdom. The organisation alluded to the irony that Saudi authorities detained Loujain al-Hathloul, Ensaf Haidar, Aziza al-Yousef and other feminists for their opposition to the driving ban, just days before it was lifted by MBS to international acclaim. 

Across the U.K., a petition calling on British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to prevent Israa Al-Ghomgham's execution is being circulated. 

Given the ornamental nature of activism in the West today, where flag filters and 'thoughts and prayers' are pervasive across the social media landscape, it is imperative that those sympathetic to the plight of al-Ghomgham and countless other Saudi dissidents make concerted, visible efforts. Signing and sharing petitions, and encouraging others to do the same, is critical. Using hashtags such as#FreeSaudiActivists is also key to generating attention - and countering the fake hashtags of the 'electronic flies' that advance narratives of the Saudi regime. 

Taking a proactive stance against Saudi censorship is even more crucial. Regardless of whether or not Twitter bears culpability in the arrest and death of Turki al Jasser, the network continues to provide the Kingdom a space to conduct its cyber-operations. Despite being ousted from his position, Saud al-Qahtani's handle remains fully operational. Does Twitter earnestly accept someone whom even the Crown Prince has shunned? More voices must call on Twitter to suspend al-Qahtani - responsible for the jailing of so many champions of free speech - from the platform. 

What of al-Qahtani's garrison of sock-puppets and bots? Both Oslo-based entrepreneur and writer Iyad el-Baghdadi and Doha-based professor March Owen Jones have done great work to expose fake Saudi handles and hashtags. But the task is daunting: thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of 'electronic flies' infest social media. 

Users can help, by noting suspicious accounts. There are several key signs: certain hashtags originating from Saudi Arabia and peddled exclusively by pro-Saudi handles, profile or header photos glorifying King Salman or MBS, and aggressive pushback and'whataboutism' in response to posts highlighting jailed dissidents. Once identified, these suspect accounts should be reported - repeatedly, if necessary - to Twitter. Doing so will not only deprive the Saudi regime of a channel for its propaganda and oppression, it will help reestablish a safe space for free speech. 


Saudi Arabia's crown prince to visit Bahrain, will hold talks with King Hamad


LONDON: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was due to visit Bahrain on Sunday on the second leg of a regional tour, his first since critic Jamal Khashoggi's murder.
Prince Mohammed, who began his tour Thursday with a visit to Abu Dhabi, will hold talks with Bahrain's King Hamad, the state-run Bahrain News Agency said on Saturday.
Quoting a royal court statement from Manama it said that the Saudi crown prince and King Hamad will discuss the "deep-rooted fraternal and historic relations binding the two brotherly countries and peoples, in addition to (the) latest regional, Arab and international developments".
The crown prince has been in the UAE, where he met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
They discussed the longstanding strategic ties between the two countries.
A series of issues were taken up, including current security threats in the Middle East and their impact on the stability of the region.

Bahrain holds elections with ban on opposition groups


Activists call for boycott of what they describe as 'farce' elections, raising doubts about the poll's credibility.

Bahrainis are heading to the polls on Saturday in a parliamentary election from which opposition groups have been barred in a crackdown on dissent in the Western-allied kingdom as tensions with the Shia Muslim opposition show no signs of abating.
Activists have called for a boycott of what they describe as "farce" elections, raising doubts about the credibility of the polls. The government says the elections are democratic.
The polls opened at 8am local time (05:00 GMT) and are set to close at 8pm (17:00 GMT).
Bahrain's Sunni-Muslim ruling Al Khalifa family has kept a lid on dissent since the Shia opposition staged a failed uprising in 2011. Saudi Arabia sent in troops to help crush the unrest in a mark of concern that any power-sharing concession by Bahrain could inspire Saudi Arabia's own Shia minority.
Riyadh regards the neighbouring island nation, which does not possess vast oil wealth like other Gulf states, as a critical ally in its proxy wars with Iran in the Middle East.
Bahrain, which is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, has closed the main opposition groups, barred their members from running in elections and prosecuted scores of people, many described by human rights groups as activists, in mass trials.
"Clearly, legislatures from the world's leading democratic states believe that the upcoming election in Bahrain lacks legitimacy. You simply cannot crush, torture and imprison your entire opposition, call for a pseudo-election, and then demand the respect of the international community," said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).
The government said 506 candidates are running in the election, including the highest number of female candidates. It expects a higher voter turnout than in 2014, which it put at 53 percent, when opposition groups boycotted the elections.
Only 23, out of 40 incumbents of the House of Representatives, are seeking re-election this year to parliament, which has limited powers.
Many of Bahrain's Shia say they are deprived of jobs and government services and treated as second-class citizens in the country of 1.5 million.
The authorities deny the allegations and accuse Iran of fostering unrest that has seen demonstrators clash with security forces, who have been targeted by several bomb attacks. Tehran denies the allegations.

Bahrain emboldened

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Manama is failing to create conditions necessary for a free election by "jailing or silencing people who challenge the ruling family" and banning all opposition parties.
A leader of dissolved opposition groups al-Wefaq said the rise of Saudi Crown PrinceMohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, has emboldened Bahrain's authorities in their crackdown on dissent, which has included stripping scores of activists from their nationality.
"They couldn't go ahead with all the crackdown without the strong backing of the Saudi government. Mohammed bin Salman listens only to hardliners in Bahrain's ruling family," Ali Alaswad, who lives in self-exile in London and has been sentenced in absentia to life in prison, told Reuters news agency.
Government opponents say the space for political expression has been shrinking in the lead up to the election. Several activists, including a former legislator, were arrested last week for tweeting about boycotting elections, activists said.
"No one is barred from expressing their political views," said a government spokesperson.
"Bahrain is home to 16 political societies, the majority of which have put forward candidates for the upcoming elections, and the government fully supports open and inclusive political dialogue."
Some candidates have taken to social media to urge Bahrainis to vote as a patriotic duty.
"Those who don't participate will not be part of the national consensus or equation in Bahrain," said Ali Al Aradi, deputy president of Bahrain's House of Representatives.
Some opposition figures hope the outcry over the murder of prominent Saudi journalistJamal Khashoggi in Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul last month could help strengthen more moderate voices in the region, including members of Bahrain's royal family who are open to dialogue with the opposition.
The killing of Khashoggi, a critic of Prince Mohammed, has drawn global condemnation and exposed Saudi Arabia's crackdown on dissent and aggressive foreign policy.
"Now if there's a real accusation from the US against Mohammed bin Salman, radical wings in Bahrain which don't want to work with the opposition will be weakened," Alaswad said.
But some analysts are sceptical.
"The killing of Khashoggi will simply serve to highlight that those wishing to highlight abuses face a much riskier task," said Marc Owen Jones of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter.
"If anything it will have a chilling effect."

After Khashoggi’s murder, it’s time for the world to stop ignoring Bahrain’s abuses


Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, (@salwadaei) is the advocacy director of the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).Husain Abdulla is the executive director of the Washington-based Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB).
The gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agentsin the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul opened the eyes of many to just how far the kingdom would go to silence dissent. Finally, the international community is starting to scrutinize Saudi Arabia’s repressive actions — a reaction previously unthinkable due to the kingdom’s widespread influence.

But Khashoggi’s killing is not a mishap. Rather, it is indicative of a broader theme of suppression in the Gulf that has been going on for years. Bahrain, Saudi’s little brother, is not above killing journalists. In 2011, Bahraini authorities tortured to death Karim Fakhrawi, the co-founder of the country’s only independent newspaper, al-Wasat. The only reason Fakhrawi’s case never received the same attention as Khashoggi’s is his name never appeared in a byline of The Post.
In addition, unlike what is happening in Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s murder, where someone is at least being prosecuted, seven years later in Bahrain, it is unclear if anyone has been held accountable for Fakhrawi’s torture.
What is glaringly similar in the two cases is that no officials from the ruling family were ever questioned. In Bahrain’s case, Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifa, the minister of interior and relative of the king, was not questioned about his security forces despite their role in the systematic torture and killings of individuals in the past. I, Sayed, endured torture at the hands of his security forces and, as a result, three of my family members have been subjected to torture and other reprisals in an effort to silence me. Torture continues unabated in a culture of impunity, from the most high-profile cases like Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia, to the less public cases, such as Fakhrawi’s and my family’s.
Despite newly directed attention to the region thanks to Khashoggi, a climate of abuse continues to flourish, and Bahrain is a prime example.
On Nov. 24, the country will be hosting sham elections for its lower house of parliament in an environment of deep repression and harsh restrictions on press and free expression that have already seen political activists and human rights defenders arrested and jailed — sometimes for little more than tweets. This is personal for us as members of our own families have been targeted with reprisals in Bahrain, merely to punish us for taking a public stance on the ongoing human rights issues.
Indeed, ahead of the elections, the Bahraini government made it clear how it planned to treat the political opposition. Earlier this month, a life sentence was handed down to political leader Sheikh Ali Salmanon the basis of fabricated espionage charges. The sentence came a day after King Hamad traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman.
In that meeting, instead of discussing ways to ease tensions with the international community in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s murder, which to many might seem like the logical reaction, both leaders doubled down on “slanderous media statements,” demonstrating an arrogance born from knowing they could continue their abuses with little to no fear of consequences.
This arrogance is, unfortunately, not entirely unfounded, as their violations have received all-but-full-throated support from President Trump and his administration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeorecently spoke with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, but there was no public indication that human rights concerns were raised — a disappointing waste of an opportunity that we have become all too familiar with.
What Secretary Pompeo and Prince Salman did discuss was reaching a political solution in Yemen. Ironically, prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab is unlawfully imprisoned for raising similar concerns years earlier — calling for an end to the war in Yemen and criticizing Bahrain’s role in the Saudi-led coalition on Twitter.
The U.S. Congress also missed an opportunity this week to take a stance on Bahrain, dismissing legislation that would have halted an arms sale to the kingdom. With such a move, Congress is sending a chilling message that they are on board and endorsing the administration’s problematic position that a friendly (often too friendly) relationship with ally Bahrain must be protected at all costs — human rights aside.
Trump’s administration, combined with a lack of congressional scrutiny, emboldened the repressive regime and has given Bahrain the green light to suppress civilians and jail political leaders during an election cycle that should have been an opportunity for the Al Khalifa family to ease tensions, make overtures to political opposition societies and release political prisoners.
Instead, the Bahraini government has moved to close all political and civil space. Officials closed al-Wasat, Bahrain’s only independent newspaper; the kingdom’s nonindependent judiciary dissolved all major opposition societies; a new law was passed that indefinitely bans members of the dissolved opposition societies from running for office; and critics of the government continue to face charges of “terrorism” for tweets against the elections. As if that is not enough, Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the largest opposition society, al-Wefaq — which once represented the majority of Bahrain’s lower house of parliament — is now serving life in prison on bogus charges. It should thus come as no surprise that Bahrain’s upcoming elections have no chance of being free or fair.
But in a moment of potential karma, during the U.S. midterm election this month, Democratic House candidate Tom Malinowski beat Republican incumbent Leonard Lance, who served as representative for New Jersey’s 7th District since 2009. In the new Congress, Malinowski may become a key player in shaping policies toward Bahrain and the Gulf. He has firsthand experience with Bahrain’s tight grip on civil and political society: In 2014, when Malinowski was working for the State Department, he was ordered to leave Bahrain after he met with members of al-Wefaq, including Sheikh Ali Salman, during a visit to the country.
While upsetting, it is important to remember that the killing of Khashoggi is not an exception but part of the rule. Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, Bahrain among them, are repressive regimes used to silencing dissent. While the world turns its attention to Saudi Arabia, it must not continue to turn a blind eye to Bahrain — a country that has killed journalists and continues to arrest and imprison with impunity.
Bahrain is entering its parliamentary elections with around 4,000 political prisoners, no political opposition, no independent media, no freedom and no fairness. It’s time for the United States policy to shift dramatically in Bahrain.


Saudi Arabia 'tortured female activists', charities say


Saudi Arabia tortured and sexually harassed human rights activists, including several women, human rights groups have alleged.
Prisoners in the kingdom's Dhahban Prison have allegedly been electrocuted and flogged.
Saudi Arabia arrested several women's rights activists earlier this year and influential clerics and intellectuals have also been detained.
The BBC has approached the Saudi authorities for comment.
However, a Saudi official told the Wall Street Journal the kingdom "does not condone, promote, or allow the use of torture".
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued statements on Tuesday detailing alleged torture of detained prisoners.
Activists were left unable to walk or stand properly after electrocution and flogging, an Amnesty International release said, with one woman reportedly sexually harassed by interrogators in face masks.
Human Rights Watch's release also speaks of electrocution, as well as whipping and "forcible hugging and kissing" of at least three detained women.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were praised last year for launching a modernisation drive, including the lifting of a ban on women driving.
But critics say that has been accompanied with a crackdown on dissent, and the country is also facing an international outcry over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
Saudi Arabia has blamed the killing on rogue agents but denied claims that the crown prince had knowledge of the operation.
However, the CIA reportedly believes Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder.
On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump issued a statement defending ties with Saudi Arabia, despite saying the Crown Prince "could very well" have known about the assassination.


Election Tracker: Bahrain Elections Will Proceed with No Independent Election Monitors


As Bahrain’s parliamentary elections approach amid escalating political repression, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) will be closely monitoring all updates until the vote on 24 November 2018. This blog series, Election Tracker, will follow developments and provide context on the upcoming elections.
See the previous post on how Bahrain has criminalized calling for a boycott of the elections here. See the first post on electoral irregularities here
In anticipation of the upcoming 24 November parliamentary elections in Bahrain, the kingdom has set up a workshop for civil society institutions planning on monitoring the national elections. It is reported that 231 observers will oversee the elections, and these civil society institutions will be working in conjunction with the High Elections Committee to track any voting violations. Due to Bahrain’s restrictions on civil society, the only operating civil society institutions are closely linked to the Bahraini government. It is concerning that these monitors therefore will not be independent, and will not ensure free and fair elections. The High Elections Committee’s involvement with the Bahraini government additionally means their participation will not be impartial.
Included in the participating election monitoring institutions is Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR). In 2017, the NIHR reported that there were no cases of torture within Bahraini prisons, despite an Amnesty International report stating that there were at least nine incidents of torture against imprisoned government critics in the first six months of 2017. The NIHR routinely whitewashes human rights abuses in Bahrain and should not be responsible for overseeing elections. The United Nation’s (UN) Committee against Torture (CAT) has even called out the NIHR for its lack of independence.
Another one of the civil society institutions involved in observing Bahrain’s upcoming parliamentary elections is Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS), a government-organized non-governmental organization (GONGO). BHRWS wrote in a government sponsored paper that members of the opposition who call for a boycott of the elections should be likened to terrorists. This was in response to a tweet supporting boycotting the elections from Ali al-Aswad, former member of the dissolved political society Al-Wefaq, who was exiled in the United Kingdom.
The High Elections Committee, another supposed election oversight body, is led by Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments, Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family. During his time as Minister, Sheik Khalid has suppressed Bahraini Shia Muslims through the destruction of their mosques and has seen that the Ministry of Justice, Islam is Affairs, and Endowments (MOJ) dissolvedpolitical opposition parties like Al-Wefaq and Wa’ad. Under Sheikh Khalid, the High Elections Committee also supports the gerrymandering that occurs in Bahrain.
Legitimate, independent civil society organizations have been eliminated from participating in Bahrain’s public sphere in recent years. Since 2011, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, and the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, among others, have all been shut down or forced underground. By not allowing independent organizations to assist in monitoring the upcoming election, the electoral oversight becomes partial under the High Elections Committee and the government-influenced civil society institutions it has chosen to work with.
Bahrain’s upcoming elections fail to meet the standards of a democratic election. By eliminating any opposition political societies, gerrymandering voting districts, and monitoring the election with only pro-government organizations, the elections will clearly be neither free nor fair.