Prisoners of Conscience

Human Rights Documentation of Ongoing Suppression Campaign Against Women in Saudi Arabia

A recent human rights documentation highlights an ongoing suppression campaign against women in Saudi Arabia, characterised by enforced disappearances, arrests, and arbitrary long-term imprisonments.

In recent years, the Kingdom has witnessed a radical shift in its treatment of women. While promoting legal reforms and lifting previous bans, a severe crackdown and violence have been unleashed upon women activists and human rights defenders.

According to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, Saudi Arabia experienced a prominent wave of targeting women between May and July 2018, involving arrests followed by violence, torture, and arbitrary sentencing of prominent human rights defenders, with the violations continuing to escalate.

Despite the lack of official figures on the number of female detainees, and the society’s intimidation and lack of transparency, numerous cases shed light on the Saudi government’s treatment of women of all nationalities.

The organization documented information on cases of some detainees based on their activity on social media platforms, with both the counter-terrorism and cybercrime laws being misused:

  1. Manahil Al-Otaibi: A 29-year-old athlete and social media activist, arrested on November 16, 2022, in Riyadh. She shared sports and entertainment content on social media and posted videos of herself walking in public without wearing the traditional abaya.
  2. Fatimah Al-Shawarib: An anonymous social media activist, arrested in September 2020, facing charges related to expressing opinions on Twitter and advocating for the rights of detained activists.
  3. Rania Al-Asal: An Egyptian journalist and member of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. In February 2023, she arrived in Saudi Arabia with an Egyptian journalists’ delegation to perform Umrah. Four days after starting Umrah, she was arrested from her hotel.
  4. Rahaf Al-Qahtani: A well-known social media influencer in Saudi Arabia, providing entertainment content. In May 2023, she was arrested and later sentenced to 5 years in prison and a fine, based on a video where she discussed the Saudi religious police.
  5. Munira Al-Qahtani: A 55-year-old Kuwaiti citizen suffering from cancer. She was arrested along with some of her sons and relatives on April 17, 2022, from her home in Riyadh, with the reason for her arrest still unknown.

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights points out that the actual number of female detainees is likely higher, and they represent various nationalities. The context of the arrests and sentences suggests the existence of undisclosed issues.

The Saudi government’s approach, as documented, shows how it harshly treats any voice or opinion that does not align with its promoted image. The crackdown and violations against women continue to escalate, exemplifying the government’s intensified suppression and abuses against women.

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