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The Prisoners of Conscience you won’t hear about at the 2019 Arab League Summit

Heads of Arab States will convene at the annual Arab League Summit on 31 March 2019 to discuss security, development, and foreign relations, amidst a glaring human rights abuse record overshadowing most of the leaders.

The diplomatic gathering does not allow for civil society statements or public interventions. Human rights issues do not appear on the agenda, despite the urgency of addressing government crackdowns, restrictions on speech, and prisoners of conscience, not to mention war crimes. The summit is expected to bring together Saudi Arabia’s Mohamad Bin Salman, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir. Some league members like Algeria and Lebanon have made public calls to invite Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, brave citizens and human rights defenders are in jail simply for expressing their opinions. Here’s a list of five Arab prisoners of conscience you won’t hear about at the Summit.

Share their photos and stories online using the hashtag  and call for their immediate release. Let’s make sure the world hears about them this weekend.

Nabeel Rajab | Bahrain

Nabeel Rajab is a prominent human rights defender who has been repeatedly targeted for his human rights work and criticism of the Bahraini authorities. Rajab has been in and out of prison since 2012 and subject to a travel ban since November 2014. He is currently serving a 5-year prison sentence, convicted of “spreading false rumours in time of war”, “insulting a foreign country", and “insulting public authorities”, in relation to peaceful tweets about the conflict in Yemen and torture allegations in Jaw prison.

Nabeel Rajab is a prisoner of conscience held solely for his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

Loujain al-Hathloul | Saudi Arabia

Loujain al-Hathloul is a prominent women human rights defender who was detained following a wave of arrests in May 2018. She campaigned against the long-standing ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, and for an end to the male guardianship system. Loujain was held incommunicado during the first three months of their detention with no access to her family or lawyer and has faced sexual violence and other forms of torture and ill-treatment.

Loujain is among 11 women activists who were brought to trial and charged on 13 March 2019, with contacting international organizations, including Amnesty International, journalists and other activists. Several women were also charged with promoting women’s rights and calling for the end of the male guardianship system. On 28 March 2019, three of the women activists, Iman al-Najfan, Aziza al-Yousef and Ruqayyah al-Mhareb, were released on a 'temporary basis.' Read more here.

Loujain al-Hathloul is prisoner of conscience, solely detained for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association. 

Ahmed Mansoor | United Arab Emirates

Ahmed Mansoor is a blogger, poet and prominent human rights defender who has documented the human rights situation in the UAE since 2006. Ahmed Mansoor has publicly spoken out in defence of international human rights on his blog, via social media and in interviews with international media. He is serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted on charges that include “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols”, including its leaders, “publish[ing] false information to damage [the] UAE’s reputation abroad” and “portray[ing] the UAE as a lawless land”. He has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest in March 2017.

Ahmed Mansoor is a prisoner of conscience solely detained for his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

Mohamed Mkhaïtir | Mauritania

Mohamed Mkhaïtir, a 36-year-old blogger, was arrested on 5 January 2014 after he published a blog in December 2013 criticising those who use religion to discriminate against minorities. He was charged with apostasy and insulting the prophet. In January 2015, the court first convicted Mkhaïtir of apostasy and sentenced him to death. The Appeal Court eventually quashed his death sentence on 9 November 2017 and sentenced him to two years in prison. Having already spent more than three years in detention, he was scheduled to be released. However, to this day, the authorities still detain him in an undisclosed location. Mohamed Mkhaïtir is a prisoner of conscience solely detained because he peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression.

Hanan Badr el-Din | Egypt

Hanan Badr el-Din is a human rights defender and co-founder of the Families of the Forcibly Disappeared Association. Hanan started her activism following the forcible disappearance of her husband Khalid Ezz el-Din at a protest on 27 July 2013. Hanan Badr el-Din was detained on 6 May 2017 at Qanatar prison, north of Cairo, when visiting an individual who had been forcibly disappeared in order to find out more about her husband's fate and whereabouts. She remains detained pending investigation for belonging to a banned group since then.

Hanan Badr el-Din is a prisoner of conscience who has been detained solely for her human rights work.