Saudi Arabia
Urgent Interventions

One year on, crackdown on defenders of women’s rights continues


Paris-Geneva, May 15, 2019 – Today marks one year since the beginning ofa crackdown on women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. Dozens of women and men have been arbitrarilyarrested, detained and still face judicial harassment for their defence ofwomen’s rights, including the right to drive, to set up human rightsassociations or to be freed from the male guardianship system. The Observatory(FIDH-OMCT) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all humanrights defenders, as well for the end of any act of harassment against women’srights defenders in Saudi Arabia.

The crackdown began on May 15, 2018 with Saudi authorities’ abduction ofLoujain Al-Hathloul. A prominent defender ofwomen’s right to drive, Al-Athloul was abducted in the United Arab Emirates,brought to Saudi Arabia against her will and arbitrarily detained. In thefollowing days and weeks, other women’s rights defenders were arrested anddetained across the country, including Aziza al-Youssef, Eman al-Nafjan,Aisha al-Manae, Hessa al-Sheikh, Madeha al-Ajroush, Walaa al-Shubbar, NoufAbdoulaziz, Mayya al-Zahrani, Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah,Amal al-Harbi, Shadan al-Onezi, Abeer Namankani and many others. Aziza Al-Youssefand Eman Al-Nafjan were provisionally released on March 27, and HatoonAl-Fassi, Amal Al-Harbi, Maysaa Al-Manea, and Abeer Namankani on May 2, yetmost of them still face judicial harassment and a trial startedon March 13, 2019, for ten detained women human rights defenders.

"The provisional release of Aziza Al-Youssef, Eman Al-Nafjan,Hatoon Al-Fassi, Amal Al-Harbi, Maysaa Al-Manea, and Abeer Namankani should notmake us forget the absurdity of the charges against those women",said Alexandra Poméon O’Neill, Director of the Observatory at FIDH. “Someof them have been arbitrarily detained for one year and have been subjected totorture and sexual harassment in custody. Their only crime? Demanding respectfor basic human rights and fundamental freedoms for women in the country”.

Most of the women were detained on vague security charges and theprosecution accused them of being in contact with international human rightsorganisations, or cooperating with foreign journalists, media institutions andentities “hostile to the King”. Charges and sentences faced are still unclear.

The Observatory strongly condemns the continuing judicial harassment andarbitrary detention of the above-mentioned WHRDs, which seems to be only aimedat punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities. In particular,the Observatory recalls that the right to communicate with non-governmental andintergovernmental organisations is guaranteed in Article 5 of the UnitedNations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

"At a time when the Saudi regime is intently cultivating areformist image, international scrutiny of the Kingdom’s human rights record ismore needed than ever", added Delphine Reculeau, Director of theObservatory at OMCT.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (theObservatory) is a partnership created in 1997 by the FIDH and the WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT) and aims to intervene to prevent or remedyconcrete situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCTare both members of, the European Union mechanism for humanrights defenders implemented by international civil society.

For more information, please contact:

  • FIDH: Samuel Hanryon (French, English): + 33 6 72 28 42 94

· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau(French, English): + 41 22 809 49 39

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