At 12:00 noon on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 the Saudi authorities detained a relative of social and human rights activist Noha al-Balawi as someone who was related to Noha and knew her well. He was subsequently released after several phone calls had been made to Noha asking her to report to one of the security police stations in Tabuk. At 1:30 pm Noha went to the security police station in Tabuk, only to be arrested and held in detention ever since.
The authorities questioned Noha al-Balawi about her Twitter account and tweets she had posted, and about some videos she had posted, including one in which she called for women to be allowed to drive. She was also questioned about her connections with human rights activity in Saudi Arabia, with the successful campaign on women’s right to drive, and with the women’s rights and human rights movement generally. The investigating officer stated that he would be referring the case for trial under Article 6 of the Anti-Cybercrime Law, which states: “The punishment for any person who creates or transmits anything prejudicial to public order shall be a prison term of up to five years and/or a fine of up to three million riyals ($800,000).”
The authorities have been putting out misleading messages to the effect that activist Noha al-Balawi is not being held in detention but is free and at home. However ALQST has established that this is not true, and that the purpose of such misinformation is to allow the authorities to punish Noha al-Balawi behind a wall of silence. They also promised to release Noha al-Balawi within the first five days, in an obvious and repeated attempt to silence public opinion and interested organisations, and a clear indication that they intend to hand down a harsh sentence against a civil rights activist in the total absence of any accountability or oversight.
ALQST maintains that Noha is in fact still in detention, and any talk of her release is untrue and intended to deceive. ALQST maintains that Noha al-Balawi’s work is legitimate civil and human rights work, and the authorities have no right to arrest, detain or punish her for such activity. ALQST maintains that Noha al-Balawi has not broken any law or regulation, and the Saudi authorities are bound by a number of international agreements and covenants that safeguard Noha al-Balawi’s work and prohibit the authorities from harassing her for it.
ALQST calls on everyone to take urgent action to secure the release of Noha al-Balawi, and press the authorities to refrain from charging her or going ahead with putting her on trial for advocating in defence of human rights. It calls for Noha al-Balawi’s immediate and unconditional release, for the restoration of her social media, and for her not to be prevented from expressing her opinions and living her life normally.