To mark International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on 29 November, over 120 European parliamentarians from national and EU parliaments have signed a joint statement raising awareness of the ongoing persecution of Saudi women human rights defenders (WHRDs) by the Saudi authorities.
While all of the women activists arrested during a crackdown in 2018 have now been released from prison, their release is only conditional and they cannot yet be considered free. They remain under harsh restrictions, including travel, work and social media bans, and all are at constant risk of re-arrest should they fail to comply with these conditions.
The parliamentarians’ statement criticises the continuing restrictions on women human rights defenders, and calls for an end to their ongoing persecution.
High-profile WHRDs like Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah, who were among those released earlier this year, were imprisoned because of their peaceful activism campaigning for women’s rights; they were subjected to state-led smear campaigns in which the Saudi media targeted them with baseless accusations of treason and espionage; they were tried and convicted under the repressive Counter-Terrorism Law; and in prison they were treated badly, and some of them brutally tortured and sexually harassed.
Following a joint statement by over 160 European politicians on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2021, most of the WHRDs were conditionally released in the first half of 2021 but remained under heavy restrictions and curtailment of their basic rights. Loujain al-Hathloul, for example, faces three years of probation and a five-year travel ban. Some of the women had to sign pledges that they would not disclose details of their detention, and several of their family members are also under travel bans, as a form of collective punishment and general harassment.
This time the parliamentarians are calling for an end to the persecution of WHRDs once they have been released.
ALQST calls on the Saudi authorities once again to immediately and unconditionally free all women targeted for their human rights activism, to drop all charges against them, and to provide them appropriate compensation. Furthermore, the released WHRDs should be fully granted their right to free movement, their travel bans and those on their family members should be overturned, and they should be able to carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of reprisals.
These demands have been supported by over 120 members of European parliaments, specifically by 51 members of the German Bundestag, 49 members of the Irish Oireachtas, 15 members of the UK Parliament and 13 members of the European Parliament.
Ernest Urtasun MEP (Greens/European Free Alliance), commented: “Today we celebrate all the brave women who courageously defend their rights and freedoms. They deserve our admiration and support, especially when faced with persecution and oppression. While in Saudi Arabia some of these women have recently been released from prison, their basic rights and freedoms continue to be violated and repressed. Therefore we will not desist from speaking up for their freedom.”
ALQST thanks all of the parliamentarians for their solidarity with Saudi Arabia’s women human rights defenders and their families.