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Real Saudi reformers are behind bars, rights group says ahead of G20 Summit

SAUDI ARABIA’S real reformers are behind bars, Amnesty International said today, as the reactionary gulf kingdom prepared to host Saturday’s virtual G20 Summit of world leaders.

Riyadh is hoping to use the event to reshape its public image, which has been damaged in recent years by the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Kashoggi and allegations of war crimes in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia wants to present itself as a modern and open country with women’s rights high on the agenda, and has spent large sums on a global PR campaign to soften its image. 

In Britain the Guardian was among newspapers that carried a full-page advertisement praising crown prince Mohammad bin Salman with the heading: “He empowers women.” 

But despite lifting the ban on women driving in June 2018, many prominent women’s rights activists have been detained and remain behind bars. 

Loujain al-Hathloul continues to be held in prison amid allegations she has been tortured and threatened with rape by high-ranking Saudi officials. 

She was jailed two years ago after being abducted by Saudi intelligence officials on a motorway in Abu Dhabi.

Ms Hathloul is accused of trying to destabilise the country, and Saudi Arabian media describe her as a traitor. 

Court hearings have been delayed or cancelled, with the authorities using coronavirus as an excuse, despite other cases being heard.

Communication with Ms Hathloul’s family has been cut, and on October 28 she started a hunger strike in protest at her treatment.

“For Saudi authorities the G20 summit is a critical point: it is the moment when they can promote their reform agenda to the world, and show that their country is open to doing business,” Amnesty said.

"Meanwhile, the real reformers in Saudi Arabia are behind bars.”.

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