Continuous wave of persecution against HRDs and WHRDs


The wave of arrests of human rights defenders, religious leaders and activists that started in September 2017 has continued, with more than 60 people including human rights defenders being arrested in recent months. In a joint statement released on 2nd January 2017, several United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs condemned the persecution of human rights defenders and the use of anti-terror laws to target activists. The statement was endorsed by Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

The joint statement declared: 

“We are witnessing the persecution of human rights defenders for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and belief, as well as in retaliation for their work. The Government has ignored repeated calls by UN experts and others to halt these violations, rectify them, and prevent their recurrence”.

The UN Rapporteurs called upon the Saudi authorities to release all those who have been arrested and ensure their right to reparation and compensation.

On 25 January 2018, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi to 14 years in prison and Abdulla Madhi Al-Attawi to seven years in prison. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), they were charged with the following: participating in setting up a human rights organisation (the Union for Human Rights) prior to obtaining an official permit; publishing petitions on the internet that harm the reputation of the Kingdom and its justice and security institutions; publishing information about their interrogation despite agreeing not to do so; spreading chaos and re-tweeting a tweet on Twitter after it was published by a member of the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA). Al-Otaibi had been forcibly deported from Qatar to Saudi Arabia after he was arrested on 24th May 2017 while on his way to Norway. The prison sentences were strongly condemned by human rights groups.

A new report by human rights organisations - World Movement for Human Rights (FIDH) and World Organisation Against Torture OMCT - on the situation of women human rights defenders (WHRD) in Saudi Arabia shows that despite minor progress on the guardianship laws and women’s right to drive, women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia continue to operate in an extremely closed space. The report documents cases of women human rights defenders, including a blogger who was sentenced to six years in prison for participating in a peaceful protest movement in November 2017. It describes the treatment of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia as “scandalous”. Saudi Arabian HRDs face multiple risks, not only from the authorities under the continuing male guardianship system, but also from their own families. Despite these barriers and risks, the report also notes that Saudi WHRDs have courageously continued to mobilise and organise, in particular using social media to develop networks and connect with others.