Skip to main content

Saudi Arabia: Prominent Rights Defender Detained

Samar Badawi Held Over Activism, Suspected Twitter Activity

UPDATE: On January 13, Saudi authorities released Samar Badawi on condition that she attend an investigation session with the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution later that day.

(Beirut) – Saudi authorities arrested the prominent human rights activist Samar Badawi on January 12, 2016 over her peaceful human rights advocacy. Saudi Arabia should immediately release Badawi and halt its persecution of people solely for their criticisms of Saudi human rights practices.

Saudi authorities have targeted and harassed Badawi for years. In December 2014, authorities banned Badawi from travel abroad, several months after she went to Geneva to press the UN Human Rights Council to seek the release of her then-husband, Waleed Abu al-Khair, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for his human rights work.

“The detention of Samar Badawi shows once again Saudi Arabia’s determination to silence those with the courage to speak out for human rights and reform,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director. “King Salman should call a halt to this repression and end the authorities’ incessant harassment of peaceful pro-reform advocacy.”

A source with close knowledge of the case told Human Rights Watch that the authorities summoned Badawi to the Criminal Investigation Department on the morning of January 12, where they questioned her about her human rights activism generally and whether she controls al-Khair’s Twitter account. Badawi denied that she controls the account, the source said.

After questioning her, police then transferred Badawi to a police station in Jeddah’s Salama neighborhood, where they held her for at least four hours, then transported her to Jeddah’s Dhahban Prison. Police informed her that an investigator with Saudi Arabia’s Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution would question her over the case the next day, January 13.

Badawi is perhaps best known for challenging Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system. She was one of the first women to petition Saudi authorities to allow women the right to drive as well as the right to vote and run in municipal elections.

In 2009, Badawi’s father filed a charge of “parental disobedience” against her after she fled his home to escape abuse. A judge subsequently ordered her detention in April 2010 and she spent seven months in Jeddah’s Buraiman prison. After activists began a public media campaign to draw attention to her case, Saudi authorities dropped all charges against her and released her in October 2010.

Samar Badawi is the sister of Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger who is currently serving a 10-year sentence and is to receive 1,000 lashes for setting up a liberal website and insulting religious authorities.

During her advocacy at the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014, a Saudi delegate interrupted Badawi twice to try to prevent her from finishing her remarks about al-Khair’s unjust detention. In June 2014, Saudi delegates at the Council interrupted a statement about Badawi’s brother Raif three times.

Saudi Arabia was elected a member of the Human Rights Council, the main inter-governmental body responsible for addressing human rights violations, in 2013. When establishing the Human Rights Council in 2006, the General Assembly declared that members “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.”

“Saudi Arabia’s continuing repression of peaceful human rights activists makes a mockery of its membership of the UN Human Rights Council, whose members are expected to promote and protect the very rights that the Saudi authorities are trampling underfoot,” Whitson said.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.