Human rights defenders jailed and banned from travelling
Saudi authorities continue to target human rights defenders, bloggers and writers for peacefully exercising their rights. On 10th January, a court sentenced human rights defender and lawyer Abdulaziz Al-Shubaily, a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), to eight years in prison followed by an eight-year travel ban, as reported by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.
Barely a week later, on 18th January, writer Nadhir Al-Majid was sentenced to seven years in prison, followed by a seven-year travel ban in addition to a fine, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. The charges against Al-Majid included failing to obey the ruler, participating in demonstrations, writing articles supporting protests (dating back to 2007), in addition to having contact with correspondents of foreign news agencies - namely Reuters, AFP, and CNN. Al-Majid had previously been targeted because of his defence of the right to protest. In April 2011, he was arrested and his electronic equipment was confiscated. He was beaten, kicked and ordered to stand for hours and then placed in solitary confinement for five months. His arrest came after he wrote an article entitled "I protest, I am a human being” in support of the right to demonstrate. He was released in June 2012.
Several other human rights defenders have recently been arrested in Saudi Arabia. Activist Ahmed Al-Mshikhs, was arrested on 5th January. Co-founder of Al-Adalah Centre for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Al-Mshikhs was summoned by the Criminal Investigation Department in Al-Qatif and held until 5th February, when he was released on bail. No charges were ever brought against him; however, there are concerns that he could still face trial at any time in the future, as has been the case with other activists who faced trial years after their release from detention.
On 8th January, human rights defender Essam Koshak was arrested and remains in detention at Mecca general prison. He faces the prospect of a series of interrogations by the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution in Mecca related to posts on Twitter. No charges have yet been brought against him and he has been denied proper access to his family or a lawyer. On 15th February, human rights defender Samar Badawi was summoned to appear at the Bureau of Investigation in Jeddah. Although she was not given any clear reason for her arrest, it is believed that she will face questioning in connection with her ongoing human rights work and civil rights activities, including a women's rights campaign against male guardianship.
In view of the ongoing wave of repression, the Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International's Beirut Regional Office stated:
"Human rights activists in Saudi Arabia are an endangered species. One by one they are vanishing – prosecuted, jailed, intimidated into silence or forced into exile. [...] The latest string of arrests has sparked fears that 2017 will be yet another dark year for human rights in Saudi Arabia, as the authorities continue with their attempts to crush any semblance of a human rights movement in the country."
I received a call from the Bureau of Investigation in Jeddah to summon by 10 a.m day after tomorrow, no specific reason was given yet.— samar badawi (@samarbadawi15) February 13, 2017
A campaign has been launched to encourage Saudi women to use Twitter to highlight violence against women and speak out about the violence they have suffered. The campaign promotes the use of the hashtag #Break_Your_Silence_Speak_Up in order to encourage Saudi women who had suffered gender-based violence to break their silence and tell their stories of harassment, rape and physical abuse. According to Arab News, #Break_Your_Silence_Speak_Up has been trending along with the hashtag that calls for the abolition of the male guardianship system.