AAN His Majesty King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
I am writing to raise my serious concerns about the recent wave of arrests against five women’s rights activists that took place last week in Saudi Arabia.
At midnight on 19 May 2018, the Saudi Press Agency reported that seven unnamed individuals were arrested, accusing them of forming a “cell”, posing a threat to state security for their “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric.” The following day, a chilling smear campaign ensued in government-aligned media, revealing the names of several of the activists detained, branding them as “traitors”.
Among the detained are prominent women’s rights activists and other human rights defenders who have campaigned for years for the lifting of the women’s driving ban and an end to other laws and practices that discriminate against women and girls.Government-aligned media identified the detained activists as Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, and two other activists.
I am deeply troubled that as the government of Saudi Arabia prepares to lift the women’s driving ban on 24 June, the authorities are arresting the Saudi Arabian women and men who have been at the forefront of the campaign to lift the ban.
Amnesty International is also extremely concerned about the well-being of the detained activists. They were detained solely for their peaceful human rights work, and we urge you to call on the Saudi Arabian authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally. Pending their release, we urge you to call on the authorities to guarantee their safety from torture and other ill-treatment, to reveal their whereabouts and legal status, including any charges pending, and ensure they can communicate with, and receive visits from family and a legal representative of their choosing without delay.
The recent crackdown on women human rights activists is another example of the Saudi Arabian authorities’ relentless and intensified attacks on freedom of expression, association and assembly in recent months. Since the beginning of the year, several human rights defenders have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms by the counter-terror court for their peaceful human rights activism and calls for peaceful reform. As well as leading human rights defenders, persons targeted by the authorities include: online activists; the family members of victims of human rights violations; dissident Saudi Arabian Shi'a Muslims who criticise the discrimination against members of their community; and anyone daring to reach out or associate with international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.