Paris-Geneva, February 24, 2021 – Prominent women’s rights defender Loujain al-Hathloul was conditionally released on February 10, 2021 after nearly three years behind bars. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) expresses its relief over her release but recalls that it is subjected to strict conditions and that many other women's rights defenders are still arbitrarily detained in Saudi prisons.
On February 10, 2021, Loujain al-Hathloul was released from prison under a three-year probation and a five-year travel ban, after 1,001 days of arbitrary detention. The Saudi Arabia’s Special Criminal Court sentenced her on December 28, 2020 to five years and eight months in prison, two years and ten months of which were suspended, in retaliation for her defence of women’s rights. Ms. al-Hathloul appealed this verdict, which was handed down after a blatantly unfair trial, and her first court session at the Specialised Criminal Court of Appeal is scheduled to take place on March 2, 2021.
Earlier this year, Nouf Abdelaziz, a journalist who has been vocal about the wave of arrests targeting many women’s rights defenders from May 2018 onward, was also conditionally released after spending more than two years and a half in prison.
The Observatory welcomes these two releases but deplores the fact that the two women’s rights defenders have not recovered their full freedom, as they have to respect heavy restrictions in order to avoid going back to prison. In addition, the Observatory underlines that these two recent releases should not overshadow the fact that several other women's rights defenders remain arbitrarily detained.
Among them are Nassima al-Sadah and Samar Badawi, both arbitrarily detained since July 30, 2018 for their peaceful women’s rights activism. On November 25, 2020 Nassima al-Sadah was sentenced by the Criminal Court to five years and eight months in prison, two years of which were suspended, and a five-year travel ban. The Public Prosecution has appealed the sentence and the date of the next hearing remains unknown.
The Observatory condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of Nassima al-Sadah and Samar Badawi and calls for their immediate and unconditional release, and for the release of all other women’s rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Saudi Arabia. The Observatory further calls on the Saudi authorities to quash the sentences and lift the restrictions of Loujain al-Hathloul and Nouf Abdelaziz. More broadly, the Observatory calls on the authorities to investigate allegations of torture against several women’s rights defenders and to put an end to any kind of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all women’s rights defenders in the country.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.