Saudi Arabia: One year on, crackdown on women’s rights defenders continues

Press release
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Paris-Geneva, May 15, 2019 – Today marks one year since the beginning of a crackdown on women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. Dozens of women and men have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and still face judicial harassment for their defence of women’s rights, including the right to drive, to set up human rights associations or to be freed from the male guardianship system. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders, as well for the end of any act of harassment against women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.

The crackdown began on May 15, 2018 with Saudi authorities’ abduction of Loujain Al-Hathloul. A prominent defender of women’s right to drive, Al-Hathloul was abducted in the United Arab Emirates, brought to Saudi Arabia against her will and arbitrarily detained. In the following days and weeks, other women’s rights defenders were arrested and detained across the country, including Aziza al-Youssef, Eman al-Nafjan, Aisha al-Manae, Hessa al-Sheikh, Madeha al-Ajroush, Walaa al-Shubbar, Nouf Abdoulaziz, Mayya al-Zahrani, Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Amal al-Harbi, Shadan al-Onezi, Abeer Namankani and many others. Aziza Al-Youssef and Eman Al-Nafjan were provisionally released on March 27, and Hatoon Al-Fassi, Amal Al-Harbi, Maysaa Al-Manea, and Abeer Namankani on May 2, yet most of them still face judicial harassment and a trial started on March 13, 2019, for ten detained women human rights defenders.

" The provisional release of Aziza Al-Youssef, Eman Al-Nafjan, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Amal Al-Harbi, Maysaa Al-Manea, and Abeer Namankani should not make us forget the absurdity of the charges against those women ", said Alexandra Poméon O’Neill, Director of the Observatory at FIDH. “ Some of them have been arbitrarily detained for one year and have been subjected to torture and sexual harassment in custody. Their only crime? Demanding respect for basic human rights and fundamental freedoms for women in the country ”.

Most of the women were detained on vague security charges and the prosecution accused them of being in contact with international human rights organisations, or cooperating with foreign journalists, media institutions and entities “hostile to the King”. Charges and sentences faced are still unclear.

The Observatory strongly condemns the continuing judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of the above-mentioned WHRDs, which seems to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities. In particular, the Observatory recalls that the right to communicate with non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations is guaranteed in Article 5 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

" At a time when the Saudi regime is intently cultivating a reformist image, international scrutiny of the Kingdom’s human rights record is more needed than ever ", added Delphine Reculeau, Director of the Observatory at OMCT.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) is a partnership created in 1997 by the FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and aims to intervene to prevent or remedy concrete situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union mechanism for human rights defenders implemented by international civil society.

For more information, please contact:
FIDH: Samuel Hanryon (French, English): + 33 6 72 28 42 94
OMCT: Delphine Reculeau (French, English): + 41 22 809 49 39

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