Rights groups have welcomed the release of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul from prison, but several other activists remain behind bars in Saudi Arabia.
Over the past three years, Saudi Arabia has detained hundreds of people it sees as dissenters – including activists like al-Hathloul – but it has begun provisionally releasing some as it comes under pressure from the new administration in the United States.
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The detentions cast a spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom, an absolute monarchy that has also faced intense criticism over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a team of Saudi agents in its consulate in Istanbul.
Al-Hathloul was one of at least a dozen women’s rights activists detained in Saudi Arabia in 2018, three of whom are believed to remain in prison:
Women’s rights activist Samar Badawi was arrested in 2018 over charges linked to her human rights activism.
Badawi is known for her legal battle with her abusive father, who filed a lawsuit against her after she sought refuge in a women’s shelter in 2008.
She has advocated for the abolition of the male guardianship system, which among other things, grants male custodians the right to prevent their daughters from marrying, studying or travelling without prior consent.
Badawi is the sister of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012 for criticising officials.
She was apprehended along with Nassima al-Sadah, a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia‘s Eastern Province.
Nassima al-Sadah is a columnist and human rights activist who campaigned for civil and political rights as well as for the right of women to drive.
According to Amnesty International, she was banned from participating in municipal elections in 2015. She was also subject to a travel ban prior to her detention.
She wrote a column for the Saudi online newspaper Juhaina where she tackled Saudi nationality laws, women’s political participation and violence against women.
Saudi authorities arrested al-Sadah in 2018 as part of a crackdown on activists and bloggers who campaigned against the ban on women driving.
Mayaa al-Zahrani was detained in 2018 for a social media post in support of Nouf Abdulaziz al-Jerawi, a fellow activist arrested after security forces raided her home.
Al-Zahrani had posted an article written by al-Jerawi, where the latter clarified her role as volunteering to help the oppressed by putting them in contact with lawyers and human rights groups.
“Why am I considered as an enemy of the state that threatens its security?” al-Jerawi wrote in a post that has been widely circulated.
ALQST, a United Kingdom-based rights group focusing on Saudi Arabia, described the detention of the two women as part of “the ongoing arrests of activists”.
“We believe the Saudi authorities are keen to suppress all activists, and all sympathy with them,” the rights group said.
In December, al-Zahrani was jailed for nearly six years by the kingdom’s “anti-terrorism” court.