May 31, 2018
Human rights lawyers and activists are urging the public to put pressure on the federal and Saudi Arabian government to free women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, out of fears she could be jailed for years.
Al-Hathloul, a former University of British Columbia student, was detained by Saudi Arabian officials alongside several other prominent human rights advocates, in what many experts are calling a crackdown on activism in the country. Multiple human rights organizations and the president of UBC have released statements calling for their release.
“Time is not on our side,” said Jackie Hansen, women’s rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada. “We want to make sure they’re released because if they’re charged, it makes it that much harder to secure their release from detention.”
Al-Hathloul has been an outspoken women’s rights advocate for years, and is known for posting videos online of herself driving, in protest of Saudi Arabia’s ban on driving for women. While the government has loosened their restrictions on women by overturning their driving ban, Hansen said the arrests are a message that “activism will not be tolerated.”
Gail Davidson, executive director of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, which is preparing their own letter calling for Al-Hathloul’s release, said that Canada’s ties to Saudi Arabia, specifically a $15 billion contract to provide combat vehicles signed in 2016, could be used to her advantage.
“Canada had been very cozy with Saudi Arabia, so people that are wanting to lobby and appeal should put pressure on global affairs, and the prime minister,” she said.
In an email statement, Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Brittany Venhola-Fletcher said Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland has already alerted Saudi officials to their human rights record, and tweeted about the arrest of the women’s rights activists.
“Minister Freeland has raised Canada’s human rights concerns with her Saudi counterpart during her recent trip to Bangladesh. Canada will continue to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, both at home and abroad,” Venhola-Fletcher said.
But Davidson fears that al-Hathoul will face a similar fate to other people with Canadian connections detained in Saudi Arabia, such as blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife and children were granted asylum in Canada, and human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, who was defending Badawi. Both men are still in prison, despite many calls from international organizations for their release.
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https://www.amnesty.be/je-veux-agir/agir-en-ligne/petitions/article/3-defenseures-du-droit-de-conduire-doivent-etre-liberees (FRANCAIS – PETITION)