Saudi Arabia: International community cannot afford to remain silent about detained women’s rights activists

The international community and allies of the Saudi Arabian government must speak up to help secure the immediate and unconditional release of the women’s rights defenders currently detained in Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International said today.

More than two weeks have now passed since a number of prominent women’s rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Youssef were arrested, and yet they remain detained without charge and incommunicado with no access to their families or lawyers.

Yesterday, the European Parliament issued a resolution calling for their unconditional release and that of all human rights defenders. It also called for a more vocal European response.

“The Saudi Arabian authorities’ endless harassment of women’s rights activists is entirely unjustifiable, and the world must not remain silent on the repression of human rights defenders in the country”, said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns.

“The strong message sent by the European Parliament should be a catalyst for the EU’s Diplomatic Chief Federica Mogherini and EU member states to step up pressure on the Saudi Arabian authorities, and should also prompt others to follow suit.

“Saudi Arabia’s allies - in particular the U.S., UK and France - must push Saudi Arabian authorities to end their targeted repression of human rights activists in the country.

“European and world leaders must not stay silent in the face of gross and systematic violations of the human rights of activists and human rights defenders.”

The Saudi Arabian authorities’ endless harassment of women’s rights activists is entirely unjustifiable
Samah Hadid

Amnesty International continues to document patterns of systematic repression by the Saudi Arabian authorities in which they have silenced virtually all independent human rights defenders and critics, sentencing most to lengthy prison terms and forcing some to flee the country.

The country’s 2014 counter-terror law and its follow-up decrees have been used to prosecute human rights defenders and activists on vague and overly broad charges for their peaceful activism. The Specialized Criminal Court, a court set up to deal with security and terrorism-related offences, has sentenced several human rights defenders to up to 15 years in prison in blatantly unfair trials.

Background

To date, it is believed that 10 human rights activists have been detained in the recent crackdown. The authorities have not disclosed the whereabouts of the activists and no clear legal charges have been presented to them. Four have so far been released, though the conditions of their release remain unknown.

Many of the women’s rights defenders detained have campaigned against the long-standing ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia. The ban is due to be lifted this month, with licenses being issued from 24 June.

Amnesty International identified six of those detained and called for their release following a chilling smear campaign orchestrated by the government to discredit them as “traitors”.

Those still in detention include Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Dr. Ibrahim al-Modeimigh, Mohammad al-Rabea and Mohammed al-Bajadi. Two other men also reportedly remain in detention.

Activists detained in the recent crackdown, but released last week, include Dr. Aisha al-Manea, Dr. Hessa al-Sheikh, Dr. Madeha al-Ajroush and Walaa’ al-Shubbar.