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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Detained Women's Rights Defenders

As Saudi Arabia prepared to lift its long-standing ban on women drivers in June 2018, authorities launched an unprecedented crackdown on women human rights defenders with the May 15th arrests of prominent activists. Authorities and government-aligned media then tried to discredit five of the activists as traitors through a public smear campaign.

Over the following three weeks, authorities arrested twelve other human rights defenders, including both women and men. Two additional women were arrested in August.

The women highlighted here had been specifically advocating for women’s human rights and for the lifting of the driving ban. 

Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi

 

Detained Since: June 24, 2018.

Charges: ​Suspicious contacts with "foreign entities". Providing support to "foreign enemies." Coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom. Contacting international organizations, foreign media and other activists. Producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network.

Sentence: Not yet sentenced.

Biography: Sometime between June 21 and June 24, 2018, Saudi authorities detained Professor Hatoon al-Fassi in apparent retaliation for her activism on women’s rights. 

Dr. al-Fassi is an Associate Professor of women’s history at King Saud University, writer, and prominent women’s rights activist. She is the author of Women in Pre-Islamic Arabia: Nabatea (2007) and of a newspaper column on contemporary social affairs. Dr. al-Fassi has been a leader in the renowned “Baladi” campaign, which gained women’s suffrage in 2011, and organized women’s full participation in municipal elections for the first time in 2015. She was a key actor in the effort to lift the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia. After the ban was officially lifted on June 24, 2018, Dr. al-Fassi was one of the first women to drive, and she had planned to take journalists for a drive shortly after. At around the time the government lifted this ban, authorities began detaining women’s rights activists, including Dr. al-Fassi, for allegedly having contacts with “foreign entities” and for providing support to “foreign enemies”.

Starting in November 2018, alarming reports from Amnesty International and other human rights organizations stated that the detained women’s rights activists have been subjected to torture by electrocution and flogging, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. In February 2019, the Detention Review Panel, an independent group of British Parliamentarians and lawyers founded in 2018, published a report describing the treatment of the detained activists as “cruel, inhumane, and degrading.” In March 2019, leaked medical reports of at least 60 political prisoners, including women activists, indicate that they have been severely mistreated and subjected to torture.

On March 13, 2019, Dr. Al-Fassi and nine other women’s rights activists appeared in the criminal court in a closed-door trial for the first time since their arrest. Saudi Arabia has not made the charges public; however, reports indicate Dr. Al-Fassi and the other women activists are being tried on charges for allegedly communicating with international organizations and foreign media and promoting women’s rights. On March 27, following the second hearing, the court released three of the activists. On April 3, the remaining activists, including Dr. Al-Fassi appeared in court and were apparently denied bail. On May 2, Dr. Al-Fassi and three other women’s rights activists were temporarily released. Dr. Al-Fassi still faces trial and remains at risk of being sentenced to prison. 

Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi has been granted TEMPORARY RELEASE.

Advocate: Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA)

Advocacy Partner: Scholars at Risk

Eman al-Nafjan

 

Detained Since: May 15, 2018.

Charges: Suspicious contact with foreign parties. Coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom. Contacting international organizations, foreign media and other activists. Producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network.

Sentence: Not yet sentenced.

Biography: Prominent Saudi Arabian activist Eman Al Nafjan fell victim to the Presidency of Security’s crackdown when she, alongside nine other women’s rights activists, was arrested on May 15, 2018. Al Nafjan had maintained an active Twitter account (@saudiwoman) and online blog (Saudiwoman’s Weblog), informing her readers about daily life, culture, and human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. Known for organizing the October 26th Women to Drive Movement in 2013, she has also made her identity known to the authorities by repeatedly violating the driving ban herself. In a more recent show of activism, Al Nafjan signed a 2016 petition urging King Salman to rescind the country’s male guardianship system.

Although it is known that Al Nafjan and her fellow detainees were transferred to Jiddah from the country’s capital in May, their exact location is unknown. According to the Associated Press, the activists are being held incommunicado and have not been granted access to lawyers. Media outlets in support of the Saudi government have frequently referred to them as “traitors.” Meanwhile, estimates from legal experts indicate that this group may receive up to 20 years in prison and possibly charges of treason. Whereas many Saudi activists have moderated their criticisms of the state, particularly due to coercion or imprisonment, Al Nafjan represented one of the last vocal dissenters in the country’s community of activists. 

Eman Al Nafjan has been granted TEMPORARY RELEASE. 

Advocacy Partner: Reporters Without Borders

Nouf Abdelaziz al-Jerawi

 

Detained Since: June 6, 2018.

Charges:  Coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom. Contacting international organizations, foreign media and other activists. Producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network.

Sentence: Not yet sentenced.

Biography: The Saudi Arabian authorities raided the home of journalist and activist Nouf Abdelaziz Al Jerawi and arrested her on June 6, 2018, in continuation of its crackdown on female activists in the country. Al Jerawi was well regarded for her support of constitutional reform in Saudi Arabia, the Arab Springs, and human rights protections, which she wrote about in her online blog. She was well-known for being a women’s rights and “right-to-drive” activist. Prior to her arrest, Al Jerawi had received warnings in 2016 from the Interior Ministry, which claimed to be monitoring her actions, and was harassed and intimidated online. In one of her last demonstrations of resistance to the Saudi state, the journalist expressed support for the activists who had been arrested for speaking out against the male guardianship system and driving ban on women.

According to the human rights organization ALQST, Al Jerawi was taken to an unknown location after being arrested. She is now being held in al-Ha-ir Prison in Riyadh. Multiple human rights organizations, including the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have called on the Saudi government to release Al Jerawi and her fellow prisoners.

Advocacy Partner: Reporters Without Borders

Nouf Abdelaziz al-Jerawi has been granted CONDITIONAL RELEASE.

Aziza al-Yousef

 

Detained Since: May 17, 2018.

Charges:  Coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom. Contacting international organizations, foreign media and other activists. Producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network.

Sentence: Not yet sentenced.

Biography: Aziza al-Yousef is a woman human rights defender, retired professor, mother of five and grandmother of eight. She is a prominent women’s rights activist who has been working on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia for over two decades. 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.

She has also been a key organizer of the women driving campaign, notably in 2013, when she helped share videos of women defying the ban. She has a teleconference with the Interior Minister, which was publicized, where she emphasized the desire of both men and women to end the driving ban. In December of that year, she was arrested for driving, and was released to the custody of her husband who was forced to sign a statement that swore him to preventing his wife to drive.

In May 17, 2018, al-Yousef was one of the several women's rights defenders who was arrested and has since been held without charge. According to testimonies obtained by Amnesty International, a total of ten human rights defenders were tortured, sexually abused, and subjected to other forms of ill-treatment during their first three months of detention, when they were held in an informal detention facility in an unknown location.

Aziza al-Yousef has been granted TEMPORARY RELEASE.

Advocate: Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC)

Advocacy Partner: Amnesty International

Loujain al-Hathloul

 

Detained Since: May 15, 2018

Charges: Promoting women’s rights; calling for the end of the male guardianship system; contacting international organizations, foreign media, and other activists.

Sentence: five years and eight months in prison. 

Biography: Loujain al-Hathloul is one of the most prominent and 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 on March 15, 2018. For the first 10 months of her detention she was held without charges or trial. Loujain was detained along with 11 other women rights activists since May 2018. She was held incommunicado with no access to her family or lawyer during the first three months of her detention. During that time, Loujain was beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed, and threatened with rape and murder. On her first trial session on March 13, 2019, she was charged with promoting women’s rights; calling for the end of the male guardianship system; contacting international organizations, foreign media, and other activists, including contact with Amnesty International. Her case was transferred to Saudi Arabia's Specialized Criminal Court on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison, and with the Court suspending 2 years and 10 months of her term and backdated its start to May 2018, Loujain al-Hathloul will serve three months in prison.

Loujain al-Hathloul has been granted CONDITIONAL RELEASE.

Advocate: Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)

Advocacy Partner: Amnesty International


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