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Saudi security forces arrest two more women human rights defenders

Samar Badawi receives the International Women of Courage Award from US First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Washington DC, United States, 8 March 2012
Samar Badawi receives the International Women of Courage Award from US First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Washington DC, United States, 8 March 2012


This article was originally published on on 1 August 2018. 

Reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) confirm that on 30 July 2018 security forces arrested two women human rights defenders, Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah. No information is available about their whereabouts or the reasons for their arrests.

On 15 February 2017, Badawi appeared before the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution. The investigation lasted several hours and in a tweet on her twitter account she explained that the investigation is “related to previous issues about my human rights and civil activities including women's campaign against male guardians.”

On 02 December 2014, Badawi was informed by staff in the Passport Office at King Abdulaziz International Airport that she is not allowed to travel abroad anymore by an order from the Ministry of Interior, without any reason given or any prior investigations. She was on her way to get a flight to participate in the 16th European Union (EU) NGOs Forum on Human Rights which was held on 04 and 05 December in Brussels, Belgium.

On 12 January 2016, Badawi was arrested after she was summoned by the Criminal Investigation Authority in Jeddah for interrogation without any reason given. On 13 January 2016, she was released on bail after a detention that lasted hours.

Badawi is a prominent human rights defender in Saudi Arabia. She has worked very hard to defend the rights of women to vote, drive and to achieve social justice.

On 08 March 2012, she received the International Woman of Courage Award because she was “the first woman to file a lawsuit against the government demanding the right for women to vote, and launched an online campaign to encourage other women to file similar suits. The efforts of activists like Badawi helped encourage a royal decree allowing women to vote and run for office in future municipal elections.”

On 17 September 2015, Badawi received the International Hrant Dink Award for her endless human rights work. The award, established by the Hrant Dink Foundation in Turkey, was presented on 15 September 2015, on Hrant Dink's birthday. This award is given to individuals who risk their lives for ideals and principles, using a language of peace aiming for a world free of violence, discrimination and racism.

Nassima Al-Sadah is a co-founding member of Al-Adalah Center for Human Rights, which was denied a permit to work for human rights. She was also heavily involved in recent years in the women's driving campaign in Saudi Arabia and summoned for interrogation many times solely due to her legitimate and peaceful human rights work.

Since 15 May 2018, the GCHR and its partners have documented the arrest of around 20 human rights defenders, many of whom are supporters of women's rights campaigns. Eight have been released, including generations of women who fought for the right to drive and to live free from the control of a male guardian. But those released may still face re-arrest as new reports say they may have been released only temporarily “until the completion of their procedural review.”

The human rights defenders in detention have been referred to the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), and they could face between three and 20 years in prison if convicted. The SCC was set up to try terrorism cases, but has been misused.

The GCHR condemns in the strongest terms the ongoing targeting of women rights defenders and all other activists. GCHR believes that these two recent arrests, are part of an ongoing trend adopted by the top authorities in Saudi Arabia, in particular the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, to prosecute, arrest, torture, and judicially harass human rights defenders and online activists in the Kingdom.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release human rights defenders Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah; and
  2. Immediately release all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention is a result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights.

GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (b and c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

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