Saudi Arabia: Release Women Human Rights Defenders Immediately!

It’s been a year since the Saudi authorities detained Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef and a group of Saudi women activists simply for demanding equality and defending human rights in the Kingdom.

Many of these women led the campaign for the lifting of the driving ban on women over the past years. The ban was lifted in June 2018, but the women who made it happen still haven’t had the opportunity to legally sit behind the wheel, instead they are sitting behind bars, locked up in prison cells.

The wave of arrests didn’t end there. In July 2018, Saudi authorities arrested Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada, also prominent women activists who remain detained without charge or trial. Nassima al-Sada has been held in solitary confinement since early February 2019 in al-Mabahith prison in Dammam.

For the first three months of their detention, several of the women activists endured torture, sexual abuse and other forms of ill-treatment. They were detained incommunicado during that period, with no access to their families or lawyers.

On 13 March 2019, Loujain, Iman, and Aziza were among 11 women activists brought to trial before the Criminal Court in Riyadh. The court session was closed and diplomats and journalists were banned from attending. Several women activists face charges of contacting foreign media, other activists and international organizations including Amnesty International. Some of them were also accused of “promoting women’s rights” and “calling for the end of the male guardianship system.”

Following the court session, Iman, Aziza and a few other women activists including Dr Ruqayyah al-Muharib, Amal al-Harbi, Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi, Dr. Abir al-Namankani and Maysaa al-Mane’a were temporarily and provisionally released. However, they continue to face trial and remain at risk of being sentenced to prison terms. Releasing these women from detention is not enough, Saudi authorities must drop all charges against them.

Loujain, Samar and Nassima are still locked up in prison away from their loved ones. They must be immediately and unconditionally released to continue their peaceful human rights work towards a better future for their country and people.

Click here to view the timeline in full screen.

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman have been pushing social and economic reforms in the Kingdom. But these reforms cannot cover up human rights abuses and the brutal crackdown on human rights activists. Actual change can’t be achieved without those who fought tirelessly for it. Women activists are visionaries and drivers of change. They have a lot to give to their country. Tell King Salman to release them immediately!

Who are some of the detained women human rights defenders?

Loujain al-Hathloul

Loujain al-Hathloul, a women’s rights activist and human rights defender is one of the most outspoken women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. She is well-known for her campaigning against the driving ban and the campaign to end the male guardianship system. In 2014, she was detained for 73 days after she attempted to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. Loujain al-Hathloul also went on to stand for election in Saudi Arabia in November 2015 – the first time women were allowed to both vote and stand in elections in the state. However, despite finally being recognized as a candidate, her name was never added to the ballot.

Saudi officials detained Loujain al-Hathloul without charge or trial from 23 May 2018 until 13 March 2019, when she appeared for her first court session. She remains in prison pending the next court session.

Iman al-Nafjan

Iman al-Nafjan, an activist, blogger, linguistics professor and mother of four has been one of the leading campaigners for women’s right to drive and the campaign to end the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia. She defied the driving ban in 2013 and has been harassed and interrogated for her human rights work.

Iman al-Nafjan was detained without charge or trial from 23 May 2018 until 13 March 2019, when she appeared for her first court session. On 28 March Iman al-Nafjan was released provisionally, however she remains on trial on charges that could result in a lengthy prison sentence.

Aziza al-Youssef

Aziza al-Youssef is an activist, retired professor, mother of five and grandmother of eight. She is a prominent women’s rights activist who has been working tirelessly to support women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. She has repeatedly participated in defying the driving ban and has been harassed and interrogated for her human rights work. In 2016, she delivered a petition signed by 15,000 people to the royal court, demanding an end to the male guardianship system.

Samar Badawi

Samar Badawi, an activist and mother of two, has been repeatedly targeted and interrogated by the Saudi Arabian authorities for her human rights activism. In 2014, she was subjected to a travel ban and in 2016 was arrested for her human rights work. She is the sister of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website for public debate.

Samar Badawi has been detained since July 2018 without charges or trial.

Nassima al-Sada

Nassima al-Sada, an activist, human rights educator and mother of three has campaigned for civil and political rights, women’s rights and the rights of the Shi’a minority in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia for many years. She stood in municipal elections in 2015 but was banned from participating. She has also campaigned for the right of women to drive and for the end of male guardianship system.

Nassima al-Sada has been detained since July 2018 without charges or trial and has been placed in solitary confinement since February 2019.

Here's what you can do:

Write to the Saudi Arabian authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release the human rights defenders, including women, detained for their peaceful human rights work as they are prisoners of conscience;
  • Allow independent monitors into the prisons to investigate allegations of torture, ill-treatment and sexual harassment;
  • Allow foreign diplomats and journalists access to the trial sessions.

Send appeals by letter, fax, email, tweet to Saudi Arabian authorities:

King and Prime Minister

His Majesty King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques

Office of His Majesty the King
Royal Court, Riyadh
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior)
+966 11 403 3125 (please keep trying)

Twitter: @KingSalman
Salutation: Your Majesty

Presidency of State Security

His Excellency General Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al-Howairini

Olaya Secondary Street
Olaya Riyadh 12611 8408
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 11 412 5555

Salutation: Your Excellency

And copies to:

Human Rights Commission

Dr Bandar Mohammed Abdullah al-Aiban
North Ring Road, Exit 2
Riyadh 11515
Fax: +966 11 4185101
Twitter: @HRCSaudi