Saudi authorities' relentless crackdown on WHRDs continues

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Saudi authorities have recently targeted human rights defenders in a renewed effort to silence dissent. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, those arrested have included leaders and supporters of #Oct26driving, #Right2Drive and #IAmMyOwnGuardian campaigns - those who have dared to speak out about human rights violations. These arrests of prominent human rights activists came a week before Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving.

In the crackdown, which began on 15th May 2018, Saudi Arabia’s most well-known women human rights defenders (WHRDs) were arrested, along with others. Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper reported that 17 people have been arrested recently, and eight have been released, leaving five men and four women facing charges. They have been referred to the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC).

State media outlets have publicly named seven women’s rights activists and supporters of the women’s rights movement as traitors, including:  

  1. Loujain Al-Hathloul, a well-known women’s rights activist on social media who was arrested on 15 May; 
  2. Dr. Eman Al-Nafjan, founder and author of the Saudiwoman's Weblog, who had previously protested the driving ban; 
  3. Aziza Al-Yousef, a prominent campaigner for women’s rights; 
  4. Dr. Ibrahim Al-Modaimegh, a lawyer and human rights defender; 
  5. Writer Mohammad Al-Rabea
  6. Abdulaziz Al-Mesha'al, businessman and board member of a women’s rights NGO; 
  7. Saudi authorities also announced the arrest of Ibrahim Fahad Al-Nafjan

On 24th May 2018, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, a founding member of the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA), was arrested in Buraidah.

Four other WHRDs were arrested but have since been released, namely Dr. Aisha Al-Manae, Dr. Hessa Al-Sheikh and Dr. Madeha Al-Ajroush, who also took part in the first women’s protest movement for the right to drive in 1990, and Walaa Al-Shubbar, a young activist well-known for her campaigning against the guardianship system. On 23rd May 2018, Dr. Al-Manae was released from custody, possibly due to illness. Two days later, the other three WHRDs were also released.

On 19th May 2018, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) publicly acknowledged the spate of arrests and accused the activists of treason and conspiracy against the country. In a statement, Saudi authorities stated that the charges included “organized action that encroaches on religious and national principles, suspicious communication with foreign entities, recruiting people working in government positions, and funding hostile groups abroad to undermine Saudi national security, stability, social peace and to destroy the social cohesion”. Shortly after, official and semi-official media outlets started naming and shaming detained human rights defenders on their front pages and social media accounts, calling them “traitors” and “agents of embassies” ( عملاء_السفارات#). If convicted, these activists face between three to twenty years in prison.

On 31st May 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the arrests and called upon the Saudi authorities to end all forms of harassment, including judicial, of the activists.