Saudi Arabia
Urgent Interventions

Continuing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdelaziz


New information

SAU 001 / 0319 / OBS 024.4
Arbitrary detention /

Judicial harassment /
Cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment

Saudi Arabia

November 30, 2020

The Observatory for the Protectionof Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World OrganisationAgainst Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgentintervention in the following situation in Saudi Arabia.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliablesources about the continuing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment ofMses. Loujain al-Hathloul, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi,Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdelaziz who have been detained fortheir peaceful defence of women’s rights following a crackdown that started inMay 2018.

According to the information received, onNovember 25, 2020, the five women rights defenders appeared before the RiyadhCriminal Court. Family members of Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul, who were present inthe courtroom, reported that Loujain appeared very weak after more than twoyears and a half in pre-trial detention. She was constantly shaking andspeaking with a low voice while she read her four-page defence.

Furthermore, representatives of foreignmissions and diplomats were denied entry in the courtroom under the pretext ofCovid-19. At the end of the hearing, the judge mentioned that his court lackedjurisdiction over Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul’s case and decided to transfer it tothe Saudi Arabia Specialized Criminal Court (SCC)[1]. The judge also said hewill consider opening an investigation with the prosecutor regarding the actsof torture suffered by Loujain in detention. The outcome of the hearing forMses. Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdelazizremains unclear at the date of publication of this urgent appeal.

On October 26, 2020, Ms. Loujain al-Hatloulstarted her second[2]hunger strike to protest her conditions of imprisonment (in particular, notbeing allowed to have regular calls), which she stopped 15 days later. Sincethe beginning of her hunger strike, she was denied all communication with herfamily, who had no news from her until the November 25, 2020 hearing. Duringthe hearing, Loujain mentioned having stopped her hunger strike because theprison authorities tried to exhaust her psychologically by waking her up everytwo hours, which caused her horrible nightmares and reminisced the torture shesuffered in previous periods of her detention.

The Observatory recalls that 2018 saw an unprecedented crackdown againstwomen rights defenders. Dozens were detained on vague security charges fordefending women’s rights. Several, including Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul, werereportedly tortured while in pre-trial detention. Loujain al-Hatloul was heldin solitaryconfinement[3], beaten, waterboarded, givenelectric shocks, sexually harassed and threatened with rape and murder[4].

The Observatory strongly condemns thecontinuing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mses. Loujainal-Hathloul, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, and NoufAbdelaziz, as well as the ongoing judicial harassment against them as well asagainst Mses. Aziza al-Youssef, Eman al-Nafjan, Hatoonal-Fassi, Amal al-Harbi, Abeer Namankani and Shadanal-Onezi, who were all temporarily released between March and May 2019, assuch harassment seems only to aim at punishing them for their legitimate humanrights activities.

The Observatory calls on the Saudiauthorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Loujain al-Hatlouland all women rights defenders currently detained in Saudi Arabia, and to putan end to the judicial harassment against them.

Background information[5]:

In September 2017, immediately after theannouncement of a Royal Decree authorising women to obtain driving licences,the services of the Ministry of Interior contacted women’s rights defenders toask them not to comment on the new decree in the media. Mid 2018 repressiontook an unprecedented turning point with the arrest of dozens of women’s rightsdefenders.

On May 15, 2018, Ms. Loujain Al-Hathloul, whohad been involved in campaigns on the right of women to drive, was abducted inthe United Arab Emirates, brought to Saudi Arabia against her will, anddetained. On the same day, Ms. Azizaal-Youssef, a key figure of women’s fight for their political rights and asupporter of the campaign to abolish male guardianship, and Dr. Eman al-Nafjan,founder and author of the Saudiwoman’sWeblog, who had also been involved in the driving campaign, were arrested anddetained. Ms. Shadan al-Onezi, Ms. Mayaa al-Zahrani, and Ms. Abeer Namankaniwere also detained later in May 2018.

On June 6, 2018, Ms. Nouf Abdelaziz, ajournalist, TV producer and women’s rights defender, was arrested at her home.

On June 27, 2018, Ms. Hatoon al-Fassi,a prominent scholar and associate professor of women’s history at King SaudUniversity, was arrested.

OnJune 30, 2018, Ms. Amal Al-Harbi, a woman human rights defender and the wife of prominent activist Mr. FowzanAl-Harbi, co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association(ACPRA), was arrested by State Security in Jeddah.

On March 13, 2019, Riyadh Criminal Courtsummoned Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Youssef, Eman al-Nafjan, Amalal-Harbi, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shadanal-Onezi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdelaziz, Abeer Namankani along with a 10thwoman human rights defender. On that day, Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul learned thecharges she prosecuted for: « demanding women’s rights that Sharia law grants Muslimwomen », « having a coordinated agenda that includes campaigns in themedia for alleged rights and demanding abolition of the male guardianshipsystem », « contacting international organizations, Saudi activists,and dissidents outside Saudi Arabia », « receiving financial support(per diems) from an external organization to visit human rights organizationsand to attend conferences and panels to speak about the status of Saudiwomen », « providing recommendations to a foreign organization and toa Saudi human rights activist », « Supporting the organization “Hasem” (the Saudi Association for Political and CivilRights (ACPRA)) », « applying for a job at the United Nations, andusing her previous prison experience in her cover letter »,« discussing her experience during her previous detention at al-Haerprison with diplomats », and « participating in a documentary withBritish journalists to speak about her personal experience in prison ».

On March 10, 2020, the hearings in the trialof Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul and Mayaa al-Zahrani, which were scheduled forMarch 11, 2020, were postponed to March 18, 2020, and then postponed to anunknown date following the closing of the courts due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in SaudiArabia, urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances thephysical integrity and psychological well-being of the above-mentioned women human rights defenders, as well as of all detained human rights defendersin Saudi Arabia;

ii. Ensure Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul,Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdelaziz, Samar Badawi, Nassima Al-Sadah and the other prosecuted women human rights defenders have unhinderedaccess to their families and lawyers and respect in all circumstances theirright to a fair trial;

iii.Immediately and unconditionally release Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul,Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdelaziz, Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah as well asall human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia and drop all the charges againstthem, as their detention is arbitrary since it only aims at punishing them fortheir legitimate human rights activities;

iv. End all forms of harassment, including atthe judicial level, against Mses. Aziza al-Youssef, Eman al-Nafjan, Amalal-Harbi, Hatoon al-Fassi, Abeer Namankani, Shadan al-Onezi, Samar Badawi andNassima Al-Sadah and the other women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia,

v.Comply in all circumstances with all the provisions ofthe United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular itsArticles 1, 6(c) and 12.2;

vi.More generally, ensure in all circumstances therespect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance withinternational human rights standards and instruments ratified by Saudi Arabia.


HisMajesty, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia and Custodianof the two Holy Mosques, Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) +966 11 403 3125;Email:; Twitter: @KingSalman

HisExcellency, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Fax:(via Ministry of the Interior) +966 11 403 3125; Email:

H.E.Waleed bin Mohammad Al Samaani, Minister of Justice, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,Fax: + 966 11 405 7777; Email:

HisRoyal Highness Prince Abdulaziz Bin Saud Bin Naif Bin Abdulaziz, Minister ofInterior, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Fax: + 966 11 401 1111 / + 966 11 401 1944 /+ 966 11 403 1125; Email:

H.E.Adel bin Ahmed El Jubeir, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fax: + 966 11 403 0645 ;Email:
• H.E. Abdulaziz Alwasil, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of SaudiArabia to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 758 0000. Email:
• H.E. Abdulrahman bin Soliman Al-Ahmed, Ambassador, Embassy of Saudi Arabia inBrussels, Belgium. Fax: +32 2 6468538. Email:

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Saudi Arabia inyour respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassiesin Saudi Arabia.


Paris-Geneva, November 30, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertakenquoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of HumanRights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is tointervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rightsdefenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights DefendersMechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergencyline:

· E-mail:

· Tel FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18

· Tel OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39

[1] The SCC was originally set up in2009 to prosecute those with direct links to terrorist acts. It is part of theMinistry of the Interior rather than the Ministry of Justice, placing it firmlywithin the national security sphere. This jurisdiction has been dealing withcases affecting “national security”. It is used by the Saudi government tocrush peaceful dissent from human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists.

[2] In August 2020, being deprived fromany call or visits from her family for more than 4 months, and afteracknowledging that other detainees were being allowed to call their families ona regular basis, Loujain decided to protest against these conditions and wenton a hunger strike from August 17 to 22, 2020. After 6 days, prison officialsagreed to allow her to have a family visit.

[3] Loujain al-Hatloul was held insolitary confinement for different periods. During her first months ofimprisonment Loujain was held in solitary confinement for 4 months. Then, inApril 2019, she was put back in solitary confinement for 10 months until theend of January / beginning of February 2020.

[4] Saud al-Qahtani, a top royaladviser, was present several times when Loujain was tortured. Sometimes Mr. Qahtani laughed at her, sometimes he threatened torape and kill her and throw her body into the sewage system. Along withsix of his men, Loujain said Mr. Qahtani tortured her all night during Ramadanmonth, and forced her to eat with them, even after sunrise. A delegation fromthe Saudi Human Rights Commission visited her after the publication of thereports about her torture, but was not in a position to help her.

[5] See Observatory Urgent Appeals SAU 003 /0518 / OBS 073, SAU 004 / 0718 / OBS 093 and SAU 005 / 0818 / OBS 103, published on May 24, 2018, onJuly 6, 2018 and onAugust 14, 2018.

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