Prisoners of Conscience

European official demands freedom of detention in Saudi prisons

The head of the European Parliament’s Commission for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Evelyn Regner called on the Saudi regime, to immediately release all women activists in its prisons, stop discrimination against women and violate their rights.

In a human rights petition, Regner stressed that the Saudi regime must abide by fully implementing all the reforms it had promised regarding women’s rights, and lifting all restrictions imposed on women’s fundamental freedoms in the Kingdom, such as choosing who and when to marry, the ability to study abroad and travel.

She pointed out that the Kingdom has arrested and continues since 2017 at least 25 activists in the field of women’s rights arbitrarily for their advocacy for women’s rights, including Lujain Hathloul and the doctor, Sheikha Al-Arf and the academic Aziza Al-Youssef, in light of widespread complaints from the detainees that they were subjected to physical and psychological torture, stressing the necessity of release on all detainees, drop charges and fairly compensate them.

Regner also criticized in the petition, the persistence of forms of discrimination against women in the Kingdom, stressing that despite promises of recent reforms in the Kingdom regarding the rights of women to drive and travel freely and work in a variety of jobs and earn equal pay for men, the reality for Saudi women is still not identical With those pledges.

The European official indicated that the Saudi Council of Ministers pledged last July to allow women over the age of 21 to obtain a passport and travel without the permission of a guardian, yet the restrictions continued on the ability of Saudi women to obtain a passport or travel outside the country freely.

In this regard, she cautioned that the Kingdom continues to use an electronic platform called “Absher” through which citizens can apply for passports, at a time if the applicant is a female and the platform allows her guardian to track her travel; as a result, many employers refuse to employ women in jobs that include tasks like traveling for fear that their parents will prevent them from fulfilling their responsibilities.

She also pointed out that many public hospitals in the Kingdom still require the guardian’s consent when a woman needs surgery or other dangerous medical procedures.

Regner highlighted that a woman in Saudi Arabia is still threatened with imprisonment if she is reported to be “absent” from the home without the consent of the family or her guardian, and that if she is imprisoned, she cannot leave the prison after serving her full sentence if her family refuses to take her, which requires Transfer her to a “nursing home” and restrict her freedom.

The European official emphasized Saudi Arabia’s deteriorating record on dealing with women’s rights, including the World Economic Forum’s global report on gender inequality, ranking the Kingdom 146th out of 153 countries in assessing women’s freedom according to its 2019 report.

It also pointed to another classification issued by the World Bank on the situation of women’s rights in the Arab and European countries, giving Saudi Arabia the zero point for freedom of travel and earning an adequate wage, and showed that workers in the Kingdom receive 56% less wages than men.

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