FILE - Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, pictured talking to reporters in London in 2003, leads a panel seeking access to female activists jailed in Saudi Arabia to investigate allegations of torture and sexual assault in prison. 
FILE - Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, pictured talking to reporters in London in 2003, leads a panel seeking access to female activists jailed in Saudi Arabia to investigate allegations of torture and sexual assault in prison. 

A group of British lawmakers and international advocates are seeking access to female activists jailed in Saudi Arabia to investigate allegations of torture and sexual assault in prison. 

Saudi Arabia imprisoned more than a dozen women last year, most of whom had campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system. Some have since been freed. Though the ban on driving has been lifted, eight remain in custody.

Human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused Saudi Arabia of subjecting some of the activists to torture and sexual harassment. Saudi officials have denied the charges.

The lawmakers and advocates, who convened a detention review panel, sent a letter to Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz, Saudi ambassador to Britain, asking him to arrange a visit to Dhahban prison near Jeddah.

"There are credible concerns that the conditions in which the Saudi women activists are being detained may have fallen significantly short of both international and Saudi Arabia's own standards," conservative lawmaker Crispin Blunt, who chairs the panel, said in the letter. "We make this request to the Saudi authorities so that we can assess for ourselves the conditions in which the Saudi women activists have been and are being detained today."

HRW report

All eight women have been subjected to abuse, including threats of rape, electric shocks and beatings, according to a Human Rights Watch report released in November. 
 
At the time, the Saudi Ministry of Media said the government "categorically and strongly denies the allegations made by them. The wild claims made, quoting anonymous 'testimonies' or 'informed sources,' are simply wrong."

The allegations come at a time when Saudi Arabia is facing an international outcry over the killing of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.  

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