In a joint letter to the President of the Human Rights Commission in Saudi Arabia, the signatories expressed their concern at the continued arbitrary detention of several women’s rights defenders, including Loujain Al-Hathloul, Nassima al-Saddah, Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdelaziz, and Miyaa al-Zahrani, many of whom were active in the 2011-2012 campaign to lift the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. Whilst in prison, several of them have been subjected to torture, sexual violence and other ill-treatment, with no access to effective remedy.
On 25 November – a day after the letter’s publication – it was reported that the case against the activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been detained for over 900 days now, had been transferred to a specialized terrorism court which is notorious for its lack of due process and issuance of lengthy prison sentences. Al-Hathloul herself is currently on hunger strike to protest the denial of her right to regular contact with her family.
Saudi Arabia’s detention and mistreatment of the activists has been repeatedly condemned by the international community. Humanists International raised al-Hathloul’s case, along with that of persecuted female activists in Morocco and Iran, in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2019. In addition, as stated in the letter:
The Committee on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) has repeatedly engaged with the Saudi authorities, urged the release of Al-Hathloul and all women human rights defenders, and expressed their serious concern over Al-Hathloul’s detention conditions.
UN Special Procedures have repeatedly urged the Kingdom to release the activists through various communications and press releases. While welcoming some reforms of the male guardianship system, they stressed that “these positive developments are the result of years of relentless advocacy and effort of many human rights and women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. Many are still being held and we call for their immediate release.”
During Saudi Arabia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November 2018, Saudi Arabia received at least 22 recommendations calling for the release of human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, from detention, and to guarantee a safe and enabling environment to do their work.
The letter urged the Saudi authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release all women’s rights defenders, drop the charges against them, and stop all harassment, intimidation and travel bans against their family members.”