Washington, D.C. – Freedom Now welcomes the nomination by eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives of imprisoned Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. The initiative, led by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), asks the Nobel Committee to award Alhathloul the distinction as she “embodies the peaceful struggle for the equal rights of women in Saudi Arabia.” Signatories to the nomination include Reps. Lois Frankel (D-FL), André Carson (D-IN), Susan Wild (D-PA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD).
“We are grateful to Rep. Bonamici and her colleagues for recognizing Loujain Alhathloul’s selfless devotion to defending human rights and promoting equality,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “The nomination serves as a reminder that the Saudi Arabian government has unjustly persecuted Loujain rather than embrace her peaceful actions and calls for reform. Her legitimate activities should be celebrated, not punished, and we call on the government to release her immediately.”
Loujain Alhathloul is one of the leaders of the Saudi feminist movement and in this role has advocated against Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers, the Saudi male guardianship system, and domestic violence. She has advanced her cause by raising awareness, supporting international human rights monitors, and conducting peaceful protests by driving despite the ban.
The Saudi government has repeatedly targeted Alhathloul. 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, where she had been living, to Saudi Arabia and detained for several days.
On May 15, 2018, armed state security officers raided her home in Riyadh 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.
After her arrest, Alhathloul was kept incommunicado for 35 days. During her detention, she was 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.”
On March 13, 2019, an official indictment against Alhathloul was issued and her trial began. The full indictment, which has not been made public, includes 12 separate charges related to Alhathloul’s activism. The trial was closed to the public and was postponed from April 2019 until January 2020.
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.
Freedom Now filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Alhathloul in September 2019. A decision is pending.