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Saudi Arabia investigates girls' orphanage beating video

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By David Gritten

BBC News

Screengrab of video footage purportedly showing a girl being hit with a belt by a police officer during a raid on an orphanage in Khamis Mushait (30 August 2022)Image source, Twitter

Image caption,

The footage appears to show plainclothes official dragging a girl by the hair before a policeman beats her with a belt

Saudi authorities say they have opened an investigation after videos posted online appeared to show security forces beating teenage girls at an orphanage.

One official seems to drag a screaming girl by her hair along the ground, while a policeman hits her with a belt.

Other girls are shown being chased and beaten with wooden sticks.

The circumstances and the timing of the incident were not clear, but a Twitter user who claimed she edited the videos wrote that the girls had been staging a “strike against corruption and injustice” after they “demanded their rights from the orphanage and were rejected”.

She later posted photographs showing what she said were bruises some of the girls had sustained in the raid and alleged that a senior official had threatened them if the videos were not taken down from social media.

Human rights activists and dissidents expressed outrage at the footage after it emerged on Tuesday night, while the hashtag “Khamis_Mushait_Orphans” began trending on Twitter in Saudi Arabia.

The UK-based rights group ALQST said the footage was “disturbing” and that Saudi authorities “must hold the perpetrators accountable”.

The opposition National Assembly Party, which is composed of exiled dissidents, condemned the “vicious attacks” and demanded “the protection of girls in shelters and orphanages in order to let them exercise their basic rights”.

The governor of the south-western Asir region said in a statement on Wednesday that he had formed a committee to investigate the footage and that its findings would be referred to the competent authorities.

The incident comes at a time of increasing international concern about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where in recent years the government has lifted a ban on women driving and relaxed male guardianship rules while also imprisoning prominent female activists as part of a crackdown on dissent.

US-based human rights group Dawn reported this week that a Saudi woman had been sentenced to 45 years in prison over social media posts criticising the kingdom’s leaders.

Court documents showed that Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani was convicted of “using the internet to tear the social fabric” and “violating public order by using social media”, it said.

Another Saudi woman, Leeds University PhD student Salma al-Shehab, was jailed for 34 years over her Twitter activity earlier this month.

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