Publication date: 07/06/2018

The undersigned human rights groups call on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders arrested in the past two weeks who were detained solely for their support 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, hold investigations in a transparent manner, and adhere to fair trial international legal standards; while we believe that all charges against them must be dropped and they should be immediately released. We are particularly alarmed that some of those arrested are facing up to 20 years of prison for their peaceful and legitimate human rights work, including their decades-long campaigning to lift the driving ban – ironically barely a month before the authorities are set to finally lift it and enable women in the country to drive legally.

The undersigned groups know of at least 13 women human rights defenders (WHRDs) whom Saudi authorities arrested in Saudi Arabia since 15 May 2018. They include advocates and supporters of the #Right2Drive and #IAmMyOwnGuardian campaigns who dared to speak openly about human rights violations in the country and are critical of state discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia. State media outlets have publicly declared seven women’s rights activists and supporters of the women’s rights movement as traitors, including Loujain Al-Hathloul, a well-known WHRD on social media who was arrested on 15 May; Dr. Eman Al-Nafjan, founder and author of the Saudiwoman’s Weblog, who had previously protested the driving ban; Aziza Al-Yousef, a prominent campaigner for women’s rights; Dr. Ibrahim Al-Modaimegh, a lawyer and human rights defender; writer Mohammad Al-Rabea; Abdulaziz Al-Mesha’al, businessman and board member of a women’s rights NGO; and an unnamed man. The state media also announced the arrest of Ibrahim Fahad Al-Nafjan. 

Saudi human rights activists also confirmed the arrest of four other women’s rights activists who have since been 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 movement demanding the right to drive in 1990. At the time, 47 women had been arrested for driving and had lost their passports and their jobs. The arrests and subsequent release also included that of Walaa Al-Shubbar, a young activist well-known for her campaigning against the guardianship system. They are all academics and professionals who supported women’s rights and provided assistance to survivors of gender-based violence. On 23 May, Dr. Aisha Al-Manae was released from custody, possibly due to 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 release remain unknown. Saudi authorities have since arrested Mohammad Al-Bajadi, a human rights defender and founding 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 activists and accused them of treason and conspiracy against the country, stating that they were being charged with “organized action that encroaches on religious and national principles”, “suspicious communication with foreign entities”, “recruiting people working in government positions”, “funding hostile groups abroad to undermine Saudi national security, stability, social peace and to destroy the social cohesion.” Shortly after, official and semi-official media outlets started naming and shaming detained human rights defenders on their front pages and social media accounts calling them “traitors” and “agents of embassies” ( عملاء_السفارات#). It is believed that the SPA statement refers directly to the activists named by Saudi media outlets.

  1. Release all persons detained solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly immediately and unconditionally;
  2. Immediately reveal the whereabouts of Loujain Al-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan, Aziza Al-Yousef and all other activists and allow them immediate access to their families and lawyers of their choice;
  3. Guarantee the physical and psychological safety and integrity of detained Saudi human rights defenders for as long as they remain in detention;
  4. Immediately put an end to the harassment of women human rights defenders, including those who have been actively and bravely campaigning for women’s right to drive;
  5. Allow women to exercise their rights, including their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, without any judicial harassment or other reprisals; and
  6. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders, including women’s rights defenders, are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisal.

TAKE ACTION NOW

Write a letter, send an email, call, fax or tweet:

  • Urging the Saudi Arabian authorities to release all those detained solely for their peaceful human rights work immediately and unconditionally;
  • Immediately reveal the whereabouts of Loujain Al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef and other activists and allow them access to their families and lawyers of their choice;
  • Guarantee the physical and psychological safety and integrity of detained Saudi human rights defenders for as long as they remain in detention;
  • Stop targeting campaigners for women’s right to drive, among other women’s rights;
  • Allow women to exercise their rights freely without any judicial harassment or other reprisals; and
  • Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisal;

Contact the following officials as soon as possible:

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) Twitter: @KingSalman   Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia 601 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington DC 20037 Phone: (202) 342-3800 I Fax: 202 295 3625 Email: info@saudiembassy.net Contact Form: https://www.saudiembassy.net/contact Twitter: @SaudiEmbassyUSA

The Signatories: 

1   Regional Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa
2   Tunisian Association for the Defence of University Values
3   Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
4   Moroccan Association for Human Rights
5   International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
6   Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights
7   Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights
8   CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
9   Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
10   Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (UAF)
11   Secularism is a Women’s Issue
12   Front Line Defenders
13   International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
14   ALQST Advocating for Human Rights
15   Committee for the Respect of Freedom and Human Rights in Tunisia
16   Lawyers for Justice in Libya
17   Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
18   Al-Marsad: Arab Human Rights Centre in Golan Heights
19   European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
20   Tunis Centre for Press Freedom
21   Gulf Centre for Human Rights
22   Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
23   Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)
24   European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR)
25   Tunisian Organisation Against Torture
26   Amnesty International
27   World Organisation Against Torture (OCMT) within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
28   Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
29   Maharat Foundation
30   English PEN
31   PEN International
32   Human Rights Watch
33   Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State

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