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By Saphora Smith
The sister of a female activist imprisoned in Saudi Arabia has issued a rare and emotional appeal to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, pressing him to raise the detention of women’s rights activists during his visit to Riyadh this week.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, fled her family on Jan. 6 and flew from Kuwait to Bangkok, where she was detained by Thai authorities. The teenager then refused to board a flight back to Kuwait, barricading herself in a hotel room and publicizing her pleas for help over Twitter.
Her case has shed light on laws and customs that rule Saudi women and girls’ lives. Women, for example, have to ask permission from a male guardian before travelling or studying abroad, getting married or applying for a passport.
“Women do feel trapped and that their lives are controlled by their male relatives,” said Coogle.
In her piece, al-Hathloul writes that her detained sister says she was “held in solitary confinement, beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed and threatened with rape and murder.”
Riyadh has denied using torture against those detained, and said that the arrests have been made on the basis of suspicious contacts with foreign entities and offering financial support to “enemies overseas.”
Meanwhile, a female activist who participated in anti-government protests and now faces being beheaded was back in court Sunday hours before Pompeo was due to land on Saudi soil.
Israa al-Ghomgham is among five Shiite Muslim activists currently on trial and facing the death penalty in a secretive terrorism court.
The brash young royal initially won international plaudits for overseeing efforts to transform the deeply conservative kingdom, including defanging the country’s feared religious police and ending a ban on women driving.
More recently, however, he has raised fears around the world for a widespread crackdown on dissent.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s visit to Riyadh on Sunday, Pompeo said he would continue to talk with the crown prince and the Saudis about ensuring that accountability for Khashoggi’s death is “full and complete.”
Saphora Smith is a London-based reporter for NBC News Digital.