On Tuesday, two South African sisters who were put in prison in Saudi Arabia, initially without charged, described their difficulties and said they complained to the United Nations. 

Yumna Desai, a former English teacher at the University of Ha’il northern Saudi Arabia, said she had been held at Dhaban prison in Jeddah from 2015 to 2018. After one year and a half of her arrest, she was told that she had been charged with unspecified “cyber crimes”.

Her sister Huda Mohammed was imprisoned for a year and had no information about her charge. Huda was married to a Saudi national and the couple has a daughter. Two brothers of them were also held and later released, they said. All the four had been working in Saudi Arabia and have now returned to live in South Africa.

Desai said that “We were never given an explanation as to why we were arrested,” asserting on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council. “Detainees are left for unknown periods in solitary confinement. They are threatened with arrests and detentions of family members if they did not confess.”

“I stand here today to give a voice to the voiceless, those detainees who have been physically and psychologically tortured, sitting there for years without trial, denied visits, phone calls, medical aid,” Desai said.

Riyadh has rejected the charges of torturing them or detaining political prisoners. However, the Saudi government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Yumna Desai said, “It is not just people like Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef or Samar Badawi, all of them who were in the same prison wing as me, that we should feel outraged about.”

“It was entirely arbitrary and illegal, not just my case but for the rest of the girls,” she added. Her sister claimed, “Our arrest, like many in the country, was violent and to this day remains a mystery …”

“Today we have submitted an official complaint on Saudi treatment to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.”

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