New York- Amnesty International has called on King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia to order the freedom of a group of women’s rights activists, who were detained two years ago in a wide scale crackdown across the kingdom, describing their ongoing plight as “heartbreaking.”
“It is heartbreaking that two years have now passed with these brave women still behind bars, especially as during this time Saudi women have been enjoying some of the newfound rights they had fought so hard for,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said.
“In prison, many suffered mental and physical anguish – including torture, sexual abuse and solitary confinement. Scores of others, though released, still face trial based on charges relating to their peaceful activism.
“It is time the Saudi Arabian leadership stopped using the judiciary as a Damocles sword hanging above activists’ heads. Saudi Arabia’s ‘reform drive’ cannot be considered credible as long as these women and other peaceful activists are still being targeted for their work,” she emphasized.
The London-based organization then called on Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders solely detained in connection with their peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression, association and assembly.
More than a dozen activists were arrested in May 2018, and held on suspicion of harming the country’s interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad.
At the time, international rights groups reported the detention of prominent female activists among the detainees, who had previously campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system.
Some were later released, but activists have said several of the women were held in solitary confinement for months and faced torture and sexual harassment.
Among the jailed female rights activists are Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at Riyadh’s King Saud University, and Loujain al-Hathloul, who was arrested and held for more than 70 days in custody back in 2014 after she attempted to drive from the neighboring United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Saudi Arabia.
Loujain was one of the activists who faced sexual harassment and torture during interrogation, according to her family and rights groups.
Following their arrest, regime-backed newspapers published front-page pictures of some of the activists with the word “traitor” stamped across them in red.
Saudi Arabia overturned the world’s only ban on female motorists on June 24, 2018. The lifting of the prohibition followed a sweeping crackdown on prominent women’s rights activists, who had staunchly advocated for the right to drive.
Ever since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the ultra-conservative kingdom has arrested dozens of activists, bloggers, intellectuals and others perceived as political opponents, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnations of the crackdown.
Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.
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