Saudi Arabia: Release Women’s Human Rights Defenders Immediately!

It’s been almost a year since the detention of prominent women’s rights activists and leading campaigners for the lifting of the driving ban, Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Yousef , who were among a group of Saudi Arabian women’s human rights defenders that were arrested in a sweeping wave of arrests. Since the start of the wave of recent arrests in May, two other women human rights defenders Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada were detained.

Official statements in state media accused Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Youssef of forming a “cell,” posing a threat to state security for their “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric.” A related hashtag describing them as “Agents of Embassies”, along with a graphic showing the six activists’ faces, have also been circulating on social media and Saudi Arabian print and broadcast media. Amnesty International is concerned that if charged, the activists could face up to 20 years in prison. Now is the time to take action and defend these brave activists, who are some of the most prominent heroines of the human rights movement in Saudi Arabia.

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution announced that it had concluded its investigations into the cases of a group of human rights defenders, including women activists, who have been detained without charge since May 2018, announcing they will soon face charges and be referred to court.

The charges listed by the prosecutor are the same as those the prosecution said several women human rights defenders confessed to last year. At least 10 human rights defenders, including several of the women activists were tortured including by being sexually abused and subjected to other forms of ill-treatment during the first three months of their detention last year. The activists were detained incommunicado during that period, with no access to their family or lawyers. According to trusted sources, Nassima al-Sada has been placed in solitary confinement since early February 2019 in al-Mabahith prison in Dammam.

As the world praises Saudi Arabia for social and economic reforms, we must raise the alarm for these imprisoned defenders who have fought tirelessly for years for women's rights in the Kingdom.


Who are the Women's 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.

Iman al-Nafjan

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

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 has previously been arrested in 2016 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.

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.

Here's what you can do:

Write to the Saudi Arabian authorities to:

  • To immediately and unconditionally release the human rights defenders, including women, detained for their peaceful human rights work as they are prisoners of conscience;
  • To allow independent monitors into the prisons to investigate allegations of torture, ill-treatment and sexual harassment.  

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