Amnesty International Canada

Saudi Arabia:
release women human rights defenders

Criminalized for advocating for women’s equality

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Call on Saudi Arabia to stop criminalizing activists


His Excellency
Naif Bandir
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
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Peaceful Protest is not a Crime

In 2018, some of the most prominent women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia were arrested solely for their peaceful activism in support of justice and equality.

In May 2018, authorities in Saudi Arabia detained University of British Columbia graduate Loujain al-Hathloul. In June, they arrested Maya’a al-Zahrani and Nouf Abdulaziz. In early August 2018, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada were detained.

They were amongst a broader group of women human rights defenders arrested in a sweeping wave of arrests in a crackdown on freedom of expression, association, and assembly in Saudi Arabia. Some of the activists reported being tortured while in detention. Some were held incommunicado and/or in solitary confinement for lengthy periods of time.

The women human rights defenders have been charged with bogus offenses. Most have been conditionally released but face strict bail conditions that prevent them from continuing their activism or traveling outside Saudi Arabia. Some remain on trial; others have been convicted.  The activists who have been released from prison face a heightened threat of harassment and violence.

On December 28, 2020, Loujain al-Hathoul was convicted of terrorism-related offences and sentenced to five years and eight months in prison. She was released from prison on February 10, 2021. Loujain has been released, but she is not free. She is subject to three years probation which prevents her from continuing her activism. She is banned from travel outside Saudi Arabia for five years. She appealed her conviction and remains on trial while her appeal is heard by the court. Loujain may have been released from prison, but she is far from free.

Smeared as traitors by the Saudi media

State media in Saudi Arabia have branded the women as traitors, and have accused some of the women of forming a “cell,” posing a threat to state security for their “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric.” Smear campaigns like this are a common tactic used worldwide to try and discredit human rights defenders.

Women human rights defenders around the world face harassment and violence because they are women, and because they may step outside traditional gender norms to publicly advocate for equality.

These women are courageous activists who have publicly and peacefully advocated for an end to the male guardianship system, the right to drive, and an end to gender-based violence. The price they are paying for their activism is steep. They have ensured prison, torture, other forms of ill treatment, have been branded as criminals and terrorists, and are unable to continue their activism.

Amnesty International firmly opposes all forms of Islamophobia and condemns any and all acts of white supremacist racism and violence against Muslim communities.

Learn more about the jailed women human rights defenders and what you can do to help.

Note: When you take action, an email will be sent to the government of Saudi Arabia including the email address you provide. Other details you provide such as your name and country will be processed in line with Amnesty International’s privacy policy.



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