Saudi Arabia: Continuing judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of 10 women human rights defenders

Urgent Appeal

New information
SAU 001 / 0319 / OBS 024
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Saudi Arabia
March 15, 2019

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 has been informed by reliable sources about the continuing judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of 10 women human rights defenders who were detained after May 2018 for their peaceful defence of women’s rights, including Msses. Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Youssef, Eman al-Nafjan, Amal al-Harbi, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shadan al-Onezi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdelaziz, and Abeer Namankani[1].

According to the information received, on March 13, 2019, Riyadh Criminal Court held the first hearing in cases against the 10 above mentioned women human rights defenders. They are accused of “undermining the public order, religious values, good morals and private life” under Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law for expressing their opinion, conducting human rights work, communicating with “hostile parties”, human rights organisations and personalities, as well as cooperating with United Nations mechanisms. Several of the accused have been reportedly tortured while in detention, in particular to obtain confessions. The acts of torture included electric shocks, whipping the women on their thighs, rape threats and sexual harassment.

Eight hours before the session, the State Security informed the accused that the hearing, initially scheduled before Riyadh Specialised Criminal Court (SCC)[2] would take place at Riyadh Criminal Court.

None of the accused have had access to a lawyer since their arrest. One of the 10, Ms. Nouf Abdelaziz, failed to appear before the court, for unknown reasons.

The Prosecution requested the court to apply the upper limit of sentences provided under Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law as well as other punishments, that were not specified yet. Offences under Article 6 carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail. The next hearing will take place on March 27, 2019.

The Observatory recalls that several women’s rights defenders, both male and female, have been detained since May 2018, in an attempt to silence the women’s rights movement in Saudi Arabia.

The Observatory strongly condemns the continuing judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of the ten above-mentioned women human rights defenders, which seems to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory calls on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all the women’s rights defenders in the country and guarantee in all circumstances their physical integrity and psychological well-being.

Background information[3]:

Ms. Loujain Al-Hathloul, who was defending the right of women to drive, was abducted in the United Arab Emirates on May 15, 2018, brought to Saudi Arabia against her will, and arbitrarily detained. In the following days, other prominent women’s rights defenders were arrested and detained across the country.

On the same day, Ms. Aziza al-Youssef, a key figure of women’s fight for their political rights and a supporter of the campaign to abolish male guardianship, and Dr. Eman al-Nafjan, founder and author of the Saudiwoman’s Weblog, who had previously protested against the driving ban, were arrested and detained.

On June 6, 2018, Ms. Nouf Abdelaziz, a journalist, TV producer and women’s rights defender, was arrested after a raid on her home.

On June 27, 2018, Ms. Hatoon al-Fassi, a prominent scholar and associate professor of women’s history at King Saud University, was arrested. She was advocating for the right of women to participate in municipal elections and to drive, and was one of the first women to drive the day the ban was lifted on June 24, 2018. She was set to be interviewed by French media France 2 to talk about the lift of the driving ban shortly after.

Ms. Amal Al-Harbi, a woman human rights defender and the wife of prominent activist Mr. Fowzan Al-Harbi, co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), was arrested by State Security on 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 following arrests that began in May 2018.

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

ii. Ensure that the ten above-mentioned 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 the ten above-mentioned women human rights defenders, and end all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them and all detained human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, as their detention is arbitrary since it only aims at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;

iv. Comply in all circumstances with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular its Articles 1, 6(c) and 12.2;

v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and instruments ratified by Saudi Arabia.


• His Majesty, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia and Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) +966 11 403 3125; Email:; Twitter: @KingSalman
• His Excellency, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) +966 11 403 3125;
• H.E. Waleed bin Mohammad Al Samaani, Minister of Justice, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Fax: + 966 11 405 7777; Email:
• His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz Bin Saud Bin Naif Bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Interior, 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 Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 758 00 00. Email:
• H.E. Abdulrahman bin Soliman Al-Ahmed, Ambassador, Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Brussels, Belgium. Fax: +32 2 6468538.

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, March 15, 2019

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.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail:
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT +41 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29


[1] The tenth women rights defender does not want her name to be disclosed.

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

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

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