Monday 19.6.2017 in Latest Developments in Saudi Arabia Country Page
Saudi authorities continue to target women human rights defenders (WHRDs) who are advocating for gender equality within a very restrictive male guardianship system. Though there has been some progress, such as a Royal Decree from April 2017 allowing government institutions to provide some services for women without their male guardians' permission, women still face severe restrictions on their rights.
To address the inequality and advocate for greater rights protection, WHRDs have been mobilising and organising their efforts within the campaign #IAmMyOwnGuardian. Those involved in the campaign take great risks and have been persecuted for their position on the male guardianship system. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), three WHRDs connected to the #IAmMyOwnGuardian campaign, Mariam Al-Otaibi, Dina Ali Lasloom, and Alaa Alanzi, were arrested in April. On 19th April 2017, Al-Otaibi was arrested after her father filed a complaint on her absence from the house. As reported by the Monitor, Al-Otaibi had previously asked for protection from the Saudi government due to the harassment from her family.
GCHR also reported the arrest of WHRD Loujain Al-Hathloul upon her return from the United States on 4th June 2017. She was transferred from King Fahd International Airport in Dammam to a detention centre in Riyadh, and then released on 7th June 2017 without further charges. This is the second time that Al-Hathloul has been arrested. In 2014, she spent 70 days in detention for defying a ban on women driving.
Amnesty International condemned the detentions, stating:
“Instead of upholding its promise of a more tolerant Saudi Arabia, the government has again shattered any notion that it is genuinely committed to upholding equality and human rights”.
In April, when WHRDs were being arrested and held in detention, the United Nations elected Saudi Arabia to serve on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Following the election, Human Rights Watch stated that:
“Saudi Arabia’s election to the commission, which was supported by 47 states, including at least three European countries, is an affront to the mission of the commission itself and a rebuke to Saudi women”.
The irony? The UN appointed Saudi Arabia to a 4-year term on its Commission on the Status of Women https://t.co/LEvnnNhysJ— Tanit P. Tur (@tanitpt) May 24, 2017
In addition to persecution of WHRDs, the authorities also harass activists involved in other advocacy efforts. For example, Ali Ahmed Shaaban was arrested on 15th May 2017, while on his way to the local pharmacy with his two-year-old daughter. Shaaban works with the Green Team Association, an environmental group working on the conservation of mangrove forests. And Saudi human rights defender Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi, who was deported to Saudi Arabia from Qatar, called for international protection as he now faces charges related to his activities in defence of human rights.
The Saudi authorities continue to violate freedom of expression, targeting writers, human rights defenders and journalists who face arrest, false charges, harassment, intimidation and travel bans. Among those who have been targeted in recent weeks includes Saudi writer, Nadhir Al-Majid. According to GCHR, in May the Specialised Criminal Court of Appeals in Riyadh upheld Al-Majid's sentence of seven years in prison followed by a seven-year travel ban, in addition to a fine of 100,000 Saudi Rials (26,663 USD).
On 17th April 2017, GCHR reported that internet activist Naima Al-Matrood faced trial on charges of allegedly “participating in a number of anti-state demonstrations and rallies, being linked to a media cell, and violating public order by creating two social networking accounts on Twitter and Facebook to demand the release of some detainees”.
In the context of the ongoing row between Qatar and the other Gulf states, Saudi authorities reportedly shut down the Saudi bureau of Al Jazeera.
After visiting Saudi Arabia on 5th May 2017, UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights Ben Emmerson expressed serious concern over the 2014 Counter Terrorism Law that is used to target “human rights defenders, writers, bloggers, journalists and other peaceful critics”. Moreover, the law “enables the criminalization of a wide spectrum of acts of peaceful expression, which are viewed by the authorities as endangering national unity or undermining the reputation or position of the state”. Emmerson “called for a new independent mechanism to re-examine all cases where people had been jailed for exercising their rights of free speech, thought, conscience, religion or opinion, and of peaceful assembly or association”.
UN accuses Saudi Arabia of using terror laws to suppress free speech https://t.co/pMAd8MEUUi— Ben Emmerson (@BenEmmerson1) May 4, 2017
In a statement on 6th June 2017, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemned the decision of the Court of Appeal of the notorious Specialised Criminal Court that upheld the death sentences of 14 members of the Shia community for protest-related crimes.