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Crackdown on Saudi women human rights defenders sets off alarms Over 30 human rights groups call for their immediate release

06 June 2018


Crackdownon Saudi women human rights defenders sets off alarms

Over30 human rights groups call for their immediate release

The undersigned human rights groups call on the Saudiauthorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rightsdefenders arrested in the past two weeks who were detained solely for theirsupport 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, holdinvestigations in a transparent manner, and adhere to fair trial internationallegal standards; while we believe that all charges against them must be droppedand they should be immediately released. We are particularly alarmed that someof those arrested could be sentenced to prison for their peaceful andlegitimate human rights work, including their decades-long campaigning to liftthe driving ban – ironically barely a month before the authorities are set tofinally lift it and enable women in the country to drive legally.

The undersigned groups know of at least 12 named humanrights defenders whom Saudi authorities arrested in Saudi Arabia since 15 May2018. They include advocates and supporters of the #Oct26driving, #Right2Driveand #IAmMyOwnGuardian campaigns who dared to speak openly about human rightsviolations in the country and are critical of state discriminationagainst women in Saudi Arabia.State media outlets have publicly declared seven women’s rights defenders andsupporters of the women’s rights movement as traitors, including LoujainAl-Hathloul, a well-known women’s rights defender onsocial media who was arrested on 15 May; Dr. Eman Al-Nafjan, founder andauthor of the Saudiwoman's Weblog, who had previously protestedthe driving ban; Aziza Al-Yousef, aprominent campaigner for women’s rights; Dr. Ibrahim Al-Modaimegh, a lawyer and human rights defender; writer Mohammad Al-Rabea; AbdulazizAl-Mesha'al, businessmanand board member of a women’s rights NGO; and an unnamed man. The state media alsoannounced the arrest ofIbrahim Fahad Al-Nafjan.

Saudi human rights defenders alsoconfirmed the arrest of four other women’s rights defenders who have sincebeen released, including Dr. Aisha Al-Manae, Dr. Hessa Al-Sheikh and Dr.Madeha Al-Ajroush, who had taken part in the first women’s protest movementdemanding the right to drive in 1990. At the time, 47 women had been arrestedfor driving and had lost their passports and their jobs. The arrests andsubsequent release also included that of Walaa Al-Shubbar, a youngactivist well-known for her campaigning against the guardianship system. They are all academics and professionals whosupported women’s rights and provided assistance to survivors of gender-basedviolence. On 23 May, Dr. Aisha Al-Manae was released from custody, possibly dueto 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 releaseremain unknown. Saudi authoritieshave since arrested Mohammad Al-Bajadi, a human rights defender andfounding member of the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia(ACPRA).

On 19 May 2018, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA)publicly acknowledged the arrest of seven of the rights defenders and accused them of treasonand conspiracy against the country, stating thatthey were being charged with “organizedaction that encroaches on religious and national principles”, “suspicious communication with foreignentities”, “recruiting people working in government positions”, “fundinghostile groups abroad to undermine Saudi national security, stability, socialpeace and to destroy the social cohesion.”

Shortly after, official andsemi-official media outlets started naming and shamingdetained human rights defenders on their front pages and social media accountscalling them “traitors” and “agents of embassies” (عملاء_السفارات#). It is believed that the SPA statement refers directly to therights defenders named by Saudi media outlets.

SPA most recently reported that 17 people have beenarrested since 15 May, and eight have been released, leaving five men and fourwomen facing charges.

The current crackdown on women human rights defenders,which started in January 2018 when the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and localpartners verified the arrest of at least two women human rights defenders, including Noha Al-Balawi and Maria Naji, is part of alarger crackdown on human rights defenders that has escalated over the pastyears. On 10 November 2017, the SpecialisedCriminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh sentenced woman human rightsdefender Naimah Al-Matrod to six years in jail. These latest arrestscome following promises of reforms announcedin 2017 as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, which Crown Prince Mohamed BinSalman has enthusiastically promoted.

We are extremely concerned about the conditions andfate of detained human rights defenders, especially as their whereabouts remainunknown, including Loujain Al-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan and Aziza Al-Yousef, whocontinue to be detained incommunicado. Saudi sources close to LoujainAl-Hathloul say that her detention is an act of reprisal for her engagementwith international human rights mechanisms, including UN human rights bodies.

During the 69th session of the Committee on theElimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), threehuman rights NGOs presented a report that concluded that there had been insufficient progresson women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and that the Saudi authorities should addresscontinuing violations of women’s rights more comprehensively.

Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree in September 2017 announcing that womenwould be allowed to drive as of 24 June 2018, offering the image promoted bySaudi-funded public relations firms that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanwas a reformer. However, following the announcement, officials in the royalcourt specifically warned womenhuman rights defenders to remain silent and told them not to givemedia interviews or post on social media.

We,the undersigned organisations, urge the Saudi authorities to:

1. Release all persons detained solely forpeacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association andpeaceful assembly immediately and unconditionally, and drop all charges againstthem;

2. Immediately reveal the whereabouts of LoujainAl-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan, Aziza Al-Yousef, Mohammad Al-Bajadi, AbdulazizAl-Mesha'al, Ibrahim Al-Modaimegh, and Mohammad Al-Rabea and allow them immediate access to their families andlawyers of their choice;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological safety andintegrity of all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia;

4. Immediately put an end to the harassment ofwomen human rights defenders, including those who have been actively andbravely campaigning for women's rights;

5. Allow all members of Saudi society including womento exercise their rights, including their rights to freedom of expression,peaceful assembly and association, without any judicial harassment or otherreprisals; and

6. Guarantee in all circumstances that all humanrights defenders, including women’s rights defenders, are able to carry outtheir legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisal.


We ask all supporters to please write a letter, send an email, call, fax ortweet using the hashtag
#ReleaseSaudiWHRDsurging the Saudiauthorities to act on the above recommendations.

Contact the followingofficials:

King and Prime Minister
His Majesty King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King
Royal Court, Riyadh
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: (via Ministry of Interior)
+966 11 403 3125 (please keep trying)

Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salmanbin Abdulaziz,
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
601 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington DC 20037
Phone: (202) 342-3800 I Fax: 202 295 3625
Contact Form:



2. Al-Marsad - Arab Human Rights Center in Golan Heights

3. Al-QST

4. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights inBahrain (ADHRB)

5. Amnesty International

6. Arabic Network forHuman Rights Information (ANHRI)

7. Association Marocaine desDroits Humains (AMDH)

8. Association Tunisiennedes Femmes Démocrates (ATFD)

9. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies(CIHRS)

10. CIVICUS: WorldAlliance for Citizen Participation

11. Committee for theRespect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia

12. English PEN

13. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights(ECDHR)

14. European-SaudiOrganisation for Human Rights

15. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatoryfor the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

16. Front Line Defenders

17. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

18. Human Rights Watch

19. InternationalService for Human Rights (ISHR)

20. Lawyers for Justice inLibya

21. Ligue algérienne desdroits de l’homme (LADDH)

22. Maharat Foundation

23. Organizationagainst Torture in Tunisia

24. PEN International

25. Secularism Is A Women's Issue (SIAWI)

26. Sisters' Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)

27. Tunis Center for Press Freedom

28. Tunisian Association for the Defence ofAcademic Values

29. Tunisian Forum forEconomic and Social Rights

30. Tunisian League forHuman Rights (LTDH)

31. Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights

32. Vigilance forDemocracy and the Civic State

33. WHRD-MENACoalition

34. World Organisation AgainstTorture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection ofHuman Rights Defenders

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