Saudi Arabia: Continuing judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of Loujain al-Hatloul and other WHRDs

Urgent Appeal

New information
SAU 001 / 0319 / OBS 024.4
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
Cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment
Saudi Arabia
November 30, 2020

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 arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdelaziz who have been detained for their peaceful defence of women’s rights following a crackdown that started in May 2018.

According to the information received, on November 25, 2020, the five women rights defenders appeared before the Riyadh Criminal Court. Family members of Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul, who were present in the courtroom, reported that Loujain appeared very weak after more than two years and a half in pre-trial detention. She was constantly shaking and speaking with a low voice while she read her four-page defence.

Furthermore, representatives of foreign missions and diplomats were denied entry in the courtroom under the pretext of Covid-19. At the end of the hearing, the judge mentioned that his court lacked jurisdiction over Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul’s case and decided to transfer it to the Saudi Arabia Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) [1]. The judge also said he will consider opening an investigation with the prosecutor regarding the acts of torture suffered by Loujain in detention. The outcome of the hearing for Mses. Mayaa al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdelaziz remains unclear at the date of publication of this urgent appeal.

On October 26, 2020, Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul started her second [2] hunger strike to protest her conditions of imprisonment (in particular, not being allowed to have regular calls), which she stopped 15 days later. Since the beginning of her hunger strike, she was denied all communication with her family, who had no news from her until the November 25, 2020 hearing. During the hearing, Loujain mentioned having stopped her hunger strike because the prison authorities tried to exhaust her psychologically by waking her up every two hours, which caused her horrible nightmares and reminisced the torture she suffered in previous periods of her detention.

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, including Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul, were reportedly tortured while in pre-trial detention. Loujain al-Hatloul was held in solitary confinement [3], beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed and threatened with rape and murder [4].

The Observatory strongly condemns the continuing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mses. 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 Mses. 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 Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul and all women rights defenders currently detained in Saudi Arabia, and to put an end to the judicial harassment against them.

Background information [5]:

In September 2017, immediately after the announcement of a Royal Decree authorising women to obtain driving licences, the services of the Ministry of Interior contacted women’s rights defenders to ask them not to comment on the new decree in the media. Mid 2018 repression took an unprecedented turning point with the arrest of dozens of women’s rights defenders.

On May 15, 2018, Ms. Loujain Al-Hathloul, who had been involved in campaigns on the right of women to drive, was abducted in the United Arab Emirates, brought to Saudi Arabia against her will, and detained. 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 also been involved in the driving campaign, were arrested and detained. Ms. Shadan al-Onezi, Ms. Mayaa al-Zahrani, and Ms. Abeer Namankani were also detained later in May 2018.

On June 6, 2018, Ms. Nouf Abdelaziz, a journalist, TV producer and women’s rights defender, was arrested at 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.

On June 30, 2018, 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 in Jeddah.

On March 13, 2019, Riyadh Criminal Court summoned Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Youssef, Eman al-Nafjan, Amal al-Harbi, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shadan al-Onezi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdelaziz, Abeer Namankani along with a 10th woman human rights defender. On that day, Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul learned the charges she prosecuted for: « demanding women’s rights that Sharia law grants Muslim women », « having a coordinated agenda that includes campaigns in the media for alleged rights and demanding abolition of the male guardianship system », « contacting international organizations, Saudi activists, and dissidents outside Saudi Arabia », « receiving financial support (per diems) from an external organization to visit human rights organizations and to attend conferences and panels to speak about the status of Saudi women », « providing recommendations to a foreign organization and to a Saudi human rights activist », « Supporting the organization “Hasem” (the Saudi Association for Political and Civil Rights (ACPRA)) », « applying for a job at the United Nations, and using her previous prison experience in her cover letter », « discussing her experience during her previous detention at al-Haer prison with diplomats », and « participating in a documentary with British journalists to speak about her personal experience in prison ».

On March 10, 2020, the hearings in the trial of Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul and Mayaa al-Zahrani, which were scheduled for March 11, 2020, were postponed to March 18, 2020, and then postponed to an unknown date following the closing of the courts due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

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 Mses. 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 Mses. 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 Mses. Aziza al-Youssef, Eman al-Nafjan, Amal al-Harbi, Hatoon al-Fassi, Abeer Namankani, Shadan al-Onezi, Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah and the other women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia,

v. 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;

vi. 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; Email:
• 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. 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, November 30, 2020
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 FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18
• Tel OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39

[1] 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.
[2] In August 2020, being deprived from any call or visits from her family for more than 4 months, and after acknowledging that other detainees were being allowed to call their families on a regular basis, Loujain decided to protest against these conditions and went on a hunger strike from August 17 to 22, 2020. After 6 days, prison officials agreed to allow her to have a family visit.
[3] Loujain al-Hatloul was held in solitary confinement for different periods. During her first months of imprisonment Loujain was held in solitary confinement for 4 months. Then, in April 2019, she was put back in solitary confinement for 10 months until the end of January / beginning of February 2020.
[4] Saud al-Qahtani, a top royal adviser, was present several times when Loujain was tortured. Sometimes Mr. Qahtani laughed at her, sometimes he threatened to rape and kill her and throw her body into the sewage system. Along with six of his men, Loujain said Mr. Qahtani tortured her all night during Ramadan month, and forced her to eat with them, even after sunrise. A delegation from the Saudi Human Rights Commission visited her after the publication of the reports about her torture, but was not in a position to help her.
[5] See Observatory Urgent Appeals SAU 003 / 0518 / OBS 073, SAU 004 / 0718 / OBS 093 and SAU 005 / 0818 / OBS 103, published on May 24, 2018, on July 6, 2018 and on August 14, 2018.

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