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Saudi Arabia
Urgent Interventions

Saudi Arabia: Sentencing of women human rights defenders Loujain al-Hathloul and Mayaa al-Zahrani


New information
SAU 001 / 0319 / OBS 024.5
Arbitrary detention /Judicial harassment
Saudi Arabia

5 January 2021

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Saudi Arabia.

New information:

The Observatory deplores the sentencing of Loujain al-Hathloul and of Mayaa al-Zahrani to 5 years and 8 months by Saudi Arabia’s Special Criminal Court on 28 December 2020, in retaliation for their defence of women’s rights.

Al-Hathloul was sentenced on charges including “seeking to change the Saudi political system”, “harming national security”, “calling for an end to male guardianship”, “attempting to apply for a U.N. job”, “communicating with international rights groups and Saudi activists”, and “speaking to foreign diplomats and with international media about women’s rights in the kingdom”. Al-Zahrani was also sentenced on charges relating to her peaceful activism. Although the court suspended two years and ten months of their sentence, which they have already been serving for over 2 and a half years and means they should be released in early 2021, their sentences are also coupled with a 3-year probation and a 5-year travel ban. During her detention, Loujain has also endured two hunger strikes and psychological torture which have contributed to a deterioration of her health.

These sentences are in no doubt aiming to punish them for their activism in favour of promoting women’s rights, including women’s right to drive, which was granted by the King of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, a few weeks after their arrest during a massive crackdown on women human rights defenders in May 2018.

The Observatory recalls that 2018 saw an unprecedented crackdown against women rights defenders. Dozens were detained on vague security charges for defending 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.

The Observatory continues to call for the release and an end to the judicial harassment against Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdelaziz who have been detained for their peaceful defence of women’s rights during the same crackdown.

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of Loujain al-Hathloul, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, and Nouf Abdelaziz, as well as the ongoing judicial harassment against them as well as against Aziza al-Youssef, Eman al-Nafjan, Hatoon al-Fassi, Amal al-Harbi, Abeer Namankani and Shadan al-Onezi, who were all temporarily released between March and May 2019, as such harassment seems only to aim at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.

The Observatory calls on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all women rights defenders currently detained in Saudi Arabia, and to put an end to the judicial harassment against them.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in Saudi Arabia, urging them to:

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

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

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

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


• His Majesty, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia and Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, Email:; Twitter: @KingSalman

• His Excellency, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Email:

• H.E. Waleed bin Mohammad Al Samaani, Minister of Justice, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Email:

• His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz Bin Saud Bin Naif Bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Interior, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Email:

• H.E. Adel bin Ahmed El Jubeir, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Email:
• H.E. Abdulaziz Alwasil, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland.. Email:
• H.E. Abdulrahman bin Soliman Al-Ahmed, Ambassador, Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Brussels, Belgium. Email:

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


Paris-Geneva, January 5, 2021

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

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

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