Washington, D.C. – On September 17, 2019, Freedom Now filed a legal petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul. Saudi Arabia’s continued detention of Alhathloul runs contrary to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“It is unconscionable that Loujain Alhathloul has been wrongfully detained for 16 months,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “Her lengthy incarceration is a violation of her fundamental rights and yet another instance of the Saudi government endangering the life of a peaceful activist calling for reform. Freedom Now calls on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release Loujain; we are confident that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will come to the same conclusion.”
Prior to her arrest, Alhathloul advocated against Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers, the Saudi male guardianship system, and domestic violence. She has advanced her cause by raising awareness online, sharing information, coordinating with international human rights monitors, and conducting peaceful protests by demonstrating her ability to drive. The Saudi government has repeatedly targeted Alhathloul for her activism. She was arrested in December 2014 for attempting to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia and again in June 2017 on unspecified charges. In March 2018, she was forcibly removed from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia and detained for several days.
Her most recent arrest occurred on the evening of May 15, 2018 when armed state security officers raided her home and arrested her without a warrant. Over the next three days, the Saudi government arrested at least a dozen women’s rights activists. Ironically, the crackdown coincided with the government’s decision to lift the driving ban on women, a decision welcomed by many of the activists. The government initiated a misinformation and propaganda campaign immediately after the arrest of Alhathloul and her fellow activists. Local newspapers referred to the women as “traitors”; pro-government Twitter accounts used similar language.
After her arrest, Alhathloul was kept incommunicado for 35 days. During her detention, she was repeatedly tortured by Saudi officials, who whipped, beat, electrocuted, and sexually harassed her. Alhathloul’s parents have stated that her “thighs were blackened by bruises” when they were finally allowed to visit her in December 2018, and that she “was shaking uncontrollably, unable to hold her grip, to walk or sit normally.” Both Alhathloul and her parents submitted formal complaints to the government regarding this treatment. To date, these complaints have gone unanswered.
On March 13, 2019, an official indictment against Alhathloul was issued and her trial began. The full indictment, which has not been made public, included 12 separate charges related to Alhathloul’s activism. The vast majority of the charges make no reference to any Saudi law and single out activities that are protected under international human rights law, such as applying for a job with the United Nations. The trial was closed to the public and has been postponed since April 2019. No additional hearings have been scheduled as of September 2019.
In August 2019, Saudi State Security officials offered to release Alhathloul if she recorded a video denying that she had been tortured. She refused this offer.