Saudi Arabia
Urgent Interventions

Ongoing judicial harassment of Mses. Aziza al-Youssef and Eman al-Nafjan, and continuing arbitrary detention of eight other WHRDs

New information

SAU 001 / 0319 / OBS 024.2
Arbitrary detention /

Judicial harassment

Saudi Arabia

April 5, 2019

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 ongoing judicial harassment of Mses. Aziza al-Youssefand Eman al-Nafjan, and the continuing arbitrary detention and judicialharassment of Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul, Amal al-Harbi, Hatoonal-Fassi, Shadan al-Onezi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, NoufAbdelaziz, Abeer Namankani along with another woman rights defender.The 10 women’s rights defenders have been detained for their peaceful defenceof women’s rights following a crackdown that started in May 2018.

According to the information received, onApril 3, 2019, Riyadh Criminal Court held the third court session of the trialagainst the ten above-mentioned women human rights defenders on charges relatedto human rights work and contacts with foreign journalists, diplomats and humanrights groups. The exact charges are still to be made public. No journalists,diplomats or other international observers were again allowed access to thecourt room. During the hearing, the Public Prosecutor reportedly replied to thewomen’s defences and denied torture allegations made by some of them on March27. Contrary to previous announcements, the Court did not release any otherdefender (see background information), but promised to order conditionalrelease of some of them “within two days”. Some verdicts are expected to beissued on April 17, 2019.

According to the information received, thefamilies of some women human rights defenders, including Ms. Loujainal-Hatloul’s family members, have been pressured to remain silent about theproceedings.

The Observatory recalls that 2018 saw an unprecedented crackdown againstwomen’s rights defenders. Dozens were detained on vague security charges fordefending women’s rights. Several were reportedly tortured while in detention.The acts of torture included electric shocks, whipping the women on their thighs,rape threats and sexual harassment. Some of the detained women’s rightsdefenders have not yet been brought to trial, such as Mses. Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah[1].

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoingarbitrary detention and judicial harassment of women’s rights defenders inSaudi Arabia, which seems to be only aimed at punishing them for theirlegitimate human rights activities. The Observatory calls on the Saudiauthorities to immediately and unconditionally release all of them and to guaranteein all circumstances their physical integrity and psychological well-being.

Background information[2]:

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. Aziza al-Youssef, a keyfigure of women’s fight for their political rights and a supporter of thecampaign to abolish male guardianship, and Dr. Eman al-Nafjan, founderand author of the Saudiwoman’s Weblog, who had also beeninvolved in the driving campaign, were arrested and detained.

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. Hatoonal-Fassi, a prominent scholar and associate professor of women’s history atKing Saud University, was arrested. She was advocating for the right of womento participate in municipal elections and to drive, and was one of the firstwomen to drive the day the ban was lifted on June 24, 2018. She was set to be interviewed by French media France2 to talk about the lift of the driving ban shortly after.

Ms. Amal Al-Harbi, a woman human rights defender and the wife ofprominent activist Mr. Fowzan Al-Harbi, co-founder of the SaudiCivil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), was arrested by State Securityon July 30, 2018 while on the seaside with her children in Jeddah.

Ms. Shadan al-Onezi, Ms. Mayaa al-Zahrani, and Ms.Abeer Namankani were also detained later in May 2018.

On March 13, 2019, Riyadh Criminal Courtsummoned Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Youssef, Eman al-Nafjan, Amalal-Harbi, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shadan al-Onezi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdelaziz,Abeer Namankani along with a 10th woman human rights defenders.Eight hours before the session, the State Security informed that the firsthearing of the 10 women, initially scheduled before Riyadh Specialised CriminalCourt (SCC)[3]would take place at Riyadh Criminal Court. One of the 10, Ms. Nouf Abdelaziz,failed to appear before the court, for unknown reasons, and was reported tosuffer the consequences of severe torture. The Prosecution accused thedefenders of contravening with Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law, based onalleged confessions that the women would have been in contact with human rightsorganisations. The Prosecution reportedly requested the Court to convict thedefendants for “communicating with people and entities hostile to theKing", "cooperating with journalists and media institutions hostileto the King", "providing financial support to foreignadversaries", and "recruiting persons for information detrimental tothe security of the Kingdom". The Prosecution requested the court to applythe upper limit of sentences provided under Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber CrimeLaw as well as other punishments, that were not specified yet. Offences underthe Anti-Cyber Crime Law carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail.

On March 27, 2019, Riyadh Criminal Court heldthe second trial session. The hearing was not public as journalists anddiplomats were not allowed to attend. The court allowed them to seat next totheir relatives and to answer to the charges directly, in presence of a court-appointed lawyer.Several of the women mentioned they had been subjected to physical torture andsexual abuses by masked interrogators during custody. The court also orderedthe defendants to respond to the charges brought against them within two weeks.Moreover, the women petitioned the court for provisional release.

On March 28, 2019, the court ordered theprovisional release of Mses. Aziza al-Youssef and Eman al-Nafjan. Then thecourt announced that other women human rights defenders would be released onMarch 31, 2019.

On March 31, 2019, the court met again butdid not order any provisional release and added it may order the provisionalrelease of two or three of the women on April 1, 2019, which it did not.

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 ten above-mentioned women human rights defenders, as well as of all detained human rightsdefenders in Saudi Arabia;

ii. Ensure the ten above-mentioned women human rights defenders haveunhindered access to their families and lawyers and respect in allcircumstances their right to a fair trial;

iii.Immediately and unconditionally release Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul,Amal al-Harbi, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shadan al-Onezi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, NoufAbdelaziz, Abeer Namankani and the other prosecuted woman human rightsdefender, and end all forms of harassment, including at thejudicial level, against them and all detained human rights defenders in SaudiArabia, as their detention is arbitrary since it only aims at punishing themfor their legitimate human rights activities;

iv.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;

v.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, April 5, 2019

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 to interveneto prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders.FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights DefendersMechanism implemented by international civil society.

[1] See Observatory Urgent Appeal SAU 005 / 0818 / OBS 103, published onAugust 14, 2018.

[2] See Observatory UrgentAppeals SAU 003 / 0518 / OBS 073 and SAU 004 /0718 / OBS 093, published on May 24, 2018 and on July 6, 2018.

[3] The SCC was originally set up in 2009 to prosecute those with directlinks to terrorist acts. It is part of the Ministry of the Interior rather thanthe Ministry of Justice, placing it firmly within the national security sphere.This jurisdiction has been dealing with cases affecting “national security”. Itis used by the Saudi government to crush peaceful dissent from human rightsdefenders and pro-democracy activists.

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