For more than two years, Saudi Arabia has locked up women’s rights activists who fought for – and won – women’s right to drive. But as the country is gearing up to virtually host the G20 World Leaders’ Summit November 21-22, it looks like the Saudi authorities are trying to change the narrative.
Today, the UK’s Guardian newspaper published a claim made by Saudi’s UK ambassador that a ‘debate’ is underway among officials about the women’s continued detention. However, this is not the first time the Saudi authorities have dangled the possibility of a pardon, suggesting that they may be seeking a pre-G20 public relations score with no intention of following through.
In the weeks before Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women driving in June 2018, authorities launched a wave of arrests targeting women’s rights activists who had campaigned against the driving ban. Later in 2018, some of the detained women reported that Saudi interrogators tortured them, including with electric shocks and whippings, and had sexually harassed and assaulted them.
The charges facing the women are solely related to their activism – including for calling for the lifting of the driving ban, an end to the male guardianship system, and speaking with diplomats, international human rights organizations, and journalists.
While some were released, at least five women’s rights activists remain in detention, including Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, and Loujain al-Hathloul, whose family said she went on hunger strike again from October 26 to protest her detention conditions.
The ambassador falsely told the Guardian that Saudi courts had found the women guilty of more than advocating the right to drive. In fact, none of the women have been convicted and their sham trials have been indefinitely suspended since mid-2019. Clemency or a pardon would suggest that the women are guilty of a crime but, in reality the authorities just need to unconditionally release them and drop the abusive charges.
Human Rights Watch is calling on governments around the world to call for the unconditional release of these women and other detained human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.
You can join us in demanding that the Saudi authorities free these activists – just click here to make your voice heard. As world leaders gather for the G20, now, more than ever, is the time to stand up for Saudi human rights defenders.