Advocacy statements

Persecution of human rights defenders in Bangladesh and Saudia Arabia continues

  • Date / 2021
  • Location / Bangladesh
  • Relevant Institution / International Humanist and Ethical Union
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 46th Session (22 February to 23 March 2021)

General Debate on Item 3


Thank you Madame President.

We thank Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor for her report on threats to human rights defenders.

Humanist human rights defenders speak out against injustice and advocate for secularism, democracy and freedom from religious dogma, often from within the confines of an ultra-conservative society. They may be persecuted and forced into exile for their views.

Where a human rights defender is forced into exile, the families who are left behind may be vulnerable to threats and intimidation. For instance, after death threats forced Bangladeshi secular blogger Asad Noor into hiding, police detained members of his family, seeking to extract a promise from them that he refrain from publishing any more critical material.[1]

In Saudi Arabia, sustained advocacy efforts occasionally yield results: in 2016, the death sentence against Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh was commuted; and last month, women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was conditionally released after 3 years in prison.[2] While such victories should be celebrated, we should be wary of them becoming publicity material for the Saudi regime, and helping to conceal wider patterns of repression.

We take the opportunity to remind the Council that several of Loujain’s fellow activists, including Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah and Mayaa al-Zahrani remain in arbitrary detention and at risk of torture; while Ashraf Fayadh continues to pay the price for his poetry through a sentence of 8-years imprisonment and 800 lashes. Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia have a moral and legal obligation to uphold the rights of all imprisoned and persecuted human rights defenders.

Thank you.

[1] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/08/bangladesh-authorities-must-not-harass-family-of-hrds-in-exile/

[2] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/02/saudi-arabia-release-of-womens-rights-defender-loujain-al-hathloul-long-overdue/

Suggested academic reference

'Persecution of human rights defenders in Bangladesh and Saudia Arabia continues', Humanists International

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