Saudi Arabia: Crackdown on Saudi women human rights defenders sets off alarms

June 6, 2018

Over 30 human rights groups call for their immediate release

The undersigned human rights groups call on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders arrested in the past two weeks who were detained solely for their support of women’s rights or other peaceful human rights work in Saudi Arabia. We further call on the authorities to immediately reveal their whereabouts, allow them access to their families and lawyers of their choice, hold investigations in a transparent manner, and adhere to fair trial international legal standards; while we believe that all charges against them must be dropped and they should be immediately released. We are particularly alarmed that some of those arrested could be sentenced to prison for their peaceful and legitimate human rights work, including their decades-long campaigning to lift the driving ban – ironically barely a month before the authorities are set to finally lift it and enable women in the country to drive legally.

The undersigned groups know of at least 12 named human rights defenders whom Saudi authorities arrested in Saudi Arabia since 15 May 2018. They include advocates and supporters of the #Oct26driving, #Right2Drive and #IAmMyOwnGuardian campaigns who dared to speak openly about human rights violations in the country and are critical of state discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia. State media outlets have publicly declared seven women’s rights defenders and supporters of the women’s rights movement as traitors, including Loujain Al-Hathloul, a well-known women’s rights defender on social media who was arrested on 15 May; Dr. Eman Al-Nafjan, founder and author of the Saudiwoman’s Weblog, who had previously protested the driving ban; Aziza Al-Yousef, a prominent campaigner for women’s rights; Dr. Ibrahim Al-Modaimegh, a lawyer and human rights defender; writer Mohammad Al-RabeaAbdulaziz Al-Mesha’albusinessman and board member of a women’s rights NGO; and an unnamed man. The state media also announced the arrest of Ibrahim Fahad Al-Nafjan.

Saudi human rights defenders also confirmed the arrest of four other women’s rights defenders who have since been released, including Dr. Aisha Al-ManaeDr. Hessa Al-Sheikh and Dr. Madeha Al-Ajroush, who had taken part in the first women’s protest movement demanding the right to drive in 1990. At the time, 47 women had been arrested for driving and had lost their passports and their jobs. The arrests and subsequent release also included that of Walaa Al-Shubbar, a young activist well-known for her campaigning against the guardianship system. They are all academics and professionals who supported women’s rights and provided assistance to survivors of gender-based violence. On 23 May, Dr. Aisha Al-Manae was released from custody, possibly due to illness. Two days later, the Saudi authorities also released Dr. Hessa Al-Sheikh, Dr. Madeha Al-Ajroush, and Walaa Al-Shubbar. The conditions of their release remain unknown. Saudi authorities have since arrested Mohammad Al-Bajadi, a human rights defender and founding member of the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA). (ARABIC) (DEUTSCH)


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