Saudi Arabia must immediately release all women’s rights defenders, say UN experts

By agency reporter
October 16, 2018

UN human rights experts are urging Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release all women human rights defenders, including six defenders who remain in jail on charges relating to their peaceful defence of human rights.

Ms Israa Al-Ghomgham was detained in 2015 for her involvement in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011. Ms Samar Badawi, Ms Nassima Al-Sadah, Ms Nouf Abdulaziz, Ms Mayya Al-Zahrani, and Ms Hatoon Al-Fassi – who had been particularly active in campaigning for women’s rights, including the right to vote and to drive – have been in pre-trial detention for the past four months.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the actions of the Saudi authorities against these women human rights defenders and we call on them, as a matter of urgency, to immediately release and drop the charges against all of them”, the experts said.

Samar Badawi, Nassima Al-Sadah, Nouf Abdulaziz, ,Mayya Al-Zahrani, and Hatoon Al-Fassi are all being held in incommunicado detention. “We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately make the whereabouts of these five human rights defenders known and to grant them access to their families and lawyers”, the experts said.

The experts expressed acute concern for Israa Al-Ghomgham, who is being tried in Riyadh’s Specialised Criminal Court  –  set up to handle terrorism-related cases, for charges that appear to lack legal bases. She has had no legal representation during her trial.

“It is reprehensible that Ms. Al-Ghomgham is facing the death penalty for asserting her fundamental human right to peaceful assembly. No one should ever be punished for exercising their most fundamental human rights, much less face the death penalty. Any execution carried out under such conditions would amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life”, the experts said.

Referring to Al-Ghomgham’s trial in the Specialised Criminal Court, the experts condemned the conflation of human rights activities with terrorism. “Measures aimed at countering terrorism should never be used to suppress or curtail human rights work,” they said. They also expressed concern that the targeting of  Al-Ghomgham might in some way be motivated by the fact that she belongs to Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority.

“We wish to remind the Saudi Government of its obligation to protect and promote the rights of all human rights defenders as they peacefully carry out their legitimate work. In the context of widespread and systemic gender discrimination, women human rights defenders face particular risks, especially when their work challenges stereotypical ideas about women’s place in society, as in this case.”

The experts are in contact with Saudi authorities about this case.

* Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/Home.aspx

[Ekk/6]

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