Saudi Arabia: ongoing judicial harassment of 10 women human rights defenders

Urgent Appeal

New information
SAU 001 / 0319 / OBS 024.2
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Saudi Arabia
April 5, 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 ongoing judicial harassment of Mses. Aziza al-Youssef and Eman al-Nafjan, and the continuing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul, Amal al-Harbi, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shadan al-Onezi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdelaziz, Abeer Namankani along with another woman rights defender. The 10 women’s rights defenders 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 April 3, 2019, Riyadh Criminal Court held the third court session of the trial against the ten above-mentioned women human rights defenders on charges related to human rights work and contacts with foreign journalists, diplomats and human rights groups. The exact charges are still to be made public. No journalists, diplomats or other international observers were again allowed access to the court room. During the hearing, the Public Prosecutor reportedly replied to the women’s defences and denied torture allegations made by some of them on March 27. Contrary to previous announcements, the Court did not release any other defender (see background information), but promised to order conditional release of some of them “within two days”. Some verdicts are expected to be issued on April 17, 2019.

According to the information received, the families of some women human rights defenders, including Ms. Loujain al-Hatloul’s family members, have been pressured to remain silent about the proceedings.

The Observatory recalls that 2018 saw an unprecedented crackdown against women’s rights defenders. Dozens were detained on vague security charges for defending women’s rights. Several were reportedly tortured while in detention. The acts of torture included electric shocks, whipping the women on their thighs, rape threats and sexual harassment. Some of the detained women’s rights defenders have not yet been brought to trial, such as Mses. Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah [1].

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, 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 of them and to guarantee in all circumstances their physical integrity and psychological well-being.

Background information [2]:

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.

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. 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 later in May 2018.

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 defenders. Eight hours before the session, the State Security informed that the first hearing of the 10 women, initially scheduled before Riyadh Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) [3] would take place at Riyadh Criminal Court. One of the 10, Ms. Nouf Abdelaziz, failed to appear before the court, for unknown reasons, and was reported to suffer the consequences of severe torture. The Prosecution accused the defenders of contravening with Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law, based on alleged confessions that the women would have been in contact with human rights organisations. The Prosecution reportedly requested the Court to convict the defendants for “communicating with people and entities hostile to the King", "cooperating with journalists and media institutions hostile to the King", "providing financial support to foreign adversaries", and "recruiting persons for information detrimental to the security of the Kingdom". 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 the Anti-Cyber Crime Law carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail.

On March 27, 2019, Riyadh Criminal Court held the second trial session. The hearing was not public as journalists and diplomats were not allowed to attend. The court allowed them to seat next to their relatives and to answer to the charges directly, in presence of a court-appointed lawyer. Several of the women mentioned they had been subjected to physical torture and sexual abuses by masked interrogators during custody. The court also ordered the defendants to respond to the charges brought against them within two weeks. Moreover, the women petitioned the court for provisional release.

On March 28, 2019, the court ordered the provisional release of Mses. Aziza al-Youssef and Eman al-Nafjan. Then the court announced that other women human rights defenders would be released on March 31, 2019.

On March 31, 2019, the court met again but did not order any provisional release and added it may order the provisional release of two or three of the women on April 1, 2019, which it did not.

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 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 Mses. Loujain al-Hathloul, Amal al-Harbi, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shadan al-Onezi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdelaziz, Abeer Namankani and the other prosecuted woman human rights defender, 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; 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, April 5, 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:
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] See Observatory Urgent Appeal SAU 005 / 0818 / OBS 103, published on August 14, 2018.
[2] 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.
[3] 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.

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