NEWS

Saudi Arabia: ‘Heartbreaking’ anniversary marks two-year detention of women human rights defenders

14 May 2020, 09:57 UTC

Amnesty International is calling on King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia to release several notable women’s rights defenders, two years after they were detained.

On 15 May 2018, a number of prominent Saudi women’s human rights activists were arrested. They had been peacefully advocating for years for the right of women in the kingdom to drive, as well as broader reforms related to the repressive male guardianship system.

It is heartbreaking that two years have now passed with these brave women still behind bars

Lynn Maalouf

In the days and weeks that followed, more of their fellow peaceful activists were detained as part of the Saudi authorities’ crackdown and smear campaign.

“It is heartbreaking that two years have now passed with these brave women still behind bars, especially as during this time Saudi women have been enjoying some of the newfound rights they had fought so hard for,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“In prison, many suffered mental and physical anguish – including torture, sexual abuse and solitary confinement. Scores of others, though released, still face trial based on charges relating to their peaceful activism.

“It is time the Saudi Arabian leadership stopped using the judiciary as a Damocles sword hanging above activists’ heads. Saudi Arabia’s ‘reform drive’ cannot be considered credible as long as these women and other peaceful activists are still being targeted for their work.”

Amnesty International is calling on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders solely detained in connection with their peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Background

Currently, 13 women’s rights activists remain on trial facing prosecution for their human rights activism. Of the 13, five remain in detention: Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sada, Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani.

While the eight other activists have been temporarily released, they all continue to face trial and many remain at risk of being sentenced to prison under anti-cybercrime legislation for their human rights work.

Those eight are: Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Amal al-Harbi, Dr Ruqayyah al-Mharib, Shadan al-Anezi, Dr. Abir Namankni, Dr Hatoon al-Fassi, and an anonymous activist.

At least 10 activists have endured a range of human rights violations while in prison, including torture, sexual abuse and other forms of ill-treatment. For the first three months of their detention, the women were held incommunicado with no access to family or lawyers. Several have also been subjected to lengthy spells in solitary confinement.

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