Saudi Arabia: International community must speak out against crackdown on human rights defenders

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned by the increased restrictions on freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, which have led to individuals speaking out about women’s human rights in the country being silenced and imprisoned.

We condemn the recent arrests of prominent women’s rights activists Nassima al-Sadah and Samar Badawi, whose brother, blogger Raif Badawi, and husband, human rights lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, are also currently imprisoned for speaking out against the government. The Saudi authorities must immediately release and drop all charges against the detained activists, who have been imprisoned purely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. We also urge the international community to speak out against these ongoing violations.

Recently proposed reforms on women’s rights, supposedly aimed at bringing greater freedoms for women, have instead been accompanied by more arrests of human rights defenders, particularly those working to improve women’s rights. This is part of a wider crackdown on human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia in recent years.

Comments last week made by the Canadian government condemning the arrests and calling for the activists to be released were met with a harsh reaction by Saudi Arabia. However, the international community has a crucial role in ending the ongoing repression of human rights defenders in the country. A backlash from the Saudi government against criticism at home and abroad must not be allowed to silence calls for basic human rights for Saudi citizens.

ARTICLE 19 urges the international community to speak out against the Saudi Arabian authorities’ continuous violations of basic rights, including the right to freedom of expression and women’s human rights, and demand an end to Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on human rights defenders. We reiterate the need for all activists arrested to be urgently released, including Nassima al-Sadag and Samar Badawi, as well as activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yosef, Hatoon al-Fassi, Ibrahim al-Mdaimegh, Abdelaziz al-Machaal, and Mohamed al-Rabiaa.