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Saudia Arabia: Outrageous ongoing detention of women's rights defenders reaches 100 days

Loujain Al-Hathloul
Loujain Al-Hathloul © Marieke Wijntjes / Amnesty International

At least 11 leading human rights defenders recently detained without charge

“The relentless crackdown on human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia will not be met with silence” – Sara Rydkvist

Female drivers to stage a Beep For Freedom protest outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London on Thursday morning

The ongoing arbitrary detention of several women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia is outrageous, Amnesty International said today, as three prominent activists reach 100 days of being held without charge.

Since May, at least 11 leading human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia have been detained without charge. Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef were all imprisoned on 15 May and today (23 August) marks 100 days since their detention.

Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns, said:

“It is absolutely outrageous that so many brave human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are still being held without charge – apparently for simply speaking out against injustice.

“They have been detained without charge and with no legal representation for more than three months. This must not go on any longer. The world cannot carry on looking the other way as this relentless persecution of those who stand up for human rights in Saudi Arabia continues.

“Saudi Arabia must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, and end the draconian crackdown on freedom of expression in the country.”

London Beep For Freedom protest

To mark the date, female activists will stage a driving protest outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in central London on Thursday morning. The disruptive protest will see activists beeping their horns, leaning out their windows with hand-written placards and bringing traffic to a standstill, between 8.30am and 9:15am.

The protest is one of a number being staged by Amnesty across the world over the next month, with demonstrations also taking place across Belgium, France, Norway and Spain. 

Amnesty is calling on the UK government to publicly condemn the arrests of these brave women and pressure the Saudi government to release them.

Sara Rydkvist, Amnesty UK’s Campaigns Manager, said:

“Saudi Arabia’s so-called reforms are a sham – the UK Government must be bold in showing solidarity with brave women standing up for human rights by publicly condemning their arrest and calling for their release.

“The relentless crackdown on human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia will not be met with silence.

“The Saudi Embassy will hear us loud and clear demanding the release of these brave women and the many other activists in the country who have dared to speak up for their rights."

Escalating crackdown on human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia

Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef have faced accusations in state-aligned media which include forming a “cell” and posing a threat to state security for their “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric”. Amnesty understands that the three women may be charged and tried by the country’s notorious counter-terror court, which has been used in other instances to try human rights defenders and deliver harsh prison sentences.

Earlier this month, two more prominent women human rights activists - Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada - were also detained. Mohammed al-Bajadi another prominent women’s rights activist was also detained in May.

The crackdown began shortly before Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women driving in the country. Many of the activists detained campaigned for the right to drive and the end of the repressive male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia for many years.

The crackdown on activists and women human rights defenders comes despite Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman presenting himself as a 'reformer' in recent months. His international public relations campaign contrasts sharply with an intensifying crackdown on dissenting voices, including those campaigning for equal rights for women.

Amnesty is also calling for an end to all forms of discrimination against women, including the guardianship system.

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