Saudi Arabia has denied claims by Pakistani activists that two transgender women from Pakistan were beaten to death in police custody after being arrested in Saudi Arabia along with more than 30 other members of the community.
Reports of the deaths had been carried in Pakistani media and decried in an activists' media conference on Monday. However, a statement from the Saudi interior ministry early on Tuesday said the reports were “totally wrong and nobody was tortured”.
The ministry acknowledged that one Pakistani had died in custody after the arrests.
“One 61-year-old person suffered a heart attack and died in the hospital after being treated,” the interior ministry statement said.
“The Pakistani embassy looked into this case and another one. Procedures have started to send the body back to his country,” it said.
Saudi media reported last week that police had arrested around 35 people after they raided a party where men were dressed as women and were wearing make-up. The Saudi outlets did not use the word transgender, nor say anyone had been killed.
In Pakistan, transgender activist Farzana Riaz told a news conference on Monday that sources in the transgender community in Saudi Arabia had told her the two Pakistanis were beaten to death with sticks.
“We are deeply saddened by the deaths of these two innocent trans persons in Saudi Arabia,” Riaz, a leader of the group Trans Action Pakistan, said in Peshawar.
Riaz showed journalists several photos of those still in custody that she said had been sent to her by contacts in Saudi Arabia, along with messages sent via cellphone.
Qamar Naseem, a rights activist from the Blue Veins group, told the same news conference he had shared available information about the incident with members of Pakistan's parliament.
The Pakistani Interior Ministry was not available for comment on Monday.
Saudi Arabia has no law against transgender people, but the kingdom has carried out arrests for cross-dressing and ordered the imprisonment and flogging of men accused of behaving like women, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
In Pakistan, transgender people are often shunned by their families and forced into begging or prostitution to support themselves.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
Recently, however, a nascent transgender activist movement has gained attention and legal rights.
In January, a Pakistani court ruled that transgender people would be counted in the national census for the first time. In 2012, the Supreme Court declared equal rights for transgender citizens. They were guaranteed the right to vote a year earlier.