2018–2019 Saudi crackdown on feminists
Rodriguez described the 2018 arrests of the women activists as a "detonator" of the reputation of MBS as a reformer, arguing that MBS aimed to claim the credit for dropping the women driving ban. Nouf Abdelaziz
was arrested on 6 June 2018 after expressing support for seven of the activists arrested in May.
Mayaa al-Zahrani was arrested later in May after she published online a letter written by Abdelaziz for release if arrested
, a women's rights activist and an associate professor of women's history, was arrested around 27 June, not long after she had driven a car following the official lifting of the women's driving ban.
The wave of political arrests in 2018 extended beyond women's rights groups to other individuals making political statements against Mohammad bin Salman's policies. Economist Essam al-Zamil
was charged with terrorism as a result of questioning plans involving the national oil company. Political prisoners were held without trial, and public figures, such as Salman al-Awdah
, were "wanted dead", according to The Economist
. Mohammed Saleh al-Bejadi
, co-founder of the Saudi Arabian human rights organisation Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association
(ACPRA), who had already been held in prison from 2011–2015, was arrested on 24 May 2018.
As of 27 June 2018, Al Jazeera English
stated that nine of the activists, out of a total of 17, remained under arrest without contact with their families or lawyers.
Al-Yousef was released from prison, without the charges against her being dropped, in late March 2019.
As of 2 August 2019, Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi
and Nassima al-Sada remained under arrest, while several of the other detained women had been released while their trials continued.
Twelve people, a pregnant woman and eleven men, involved in women's rights activities or supportive of the imprisoned activists were arrested on or around 4 April 2019.
The arrestees, including two United States
(US)–Saudi binational citizens, Badr al-Ibrahim and Salah al-Haidar, son of Aziza al-Yousef, were seen as not being "front-line activists", in the sense that they were not politically active on Twitter
and were rarely quoted in non-Saudi media.
Other April detainees included writers Khadijah al-Harbi and her husband Thumar al-Marzouqi, Mohammed al-Sadiq, Andhullah al-Dehailan, Naif al-Hendas, Ayman al-Drees, Abdullah al-Shehri and Moqbel al-Saqqar.
Fahal Abalkhail, who had supported the women to drive movement was also among the arrestees.
King Saud University
lecturer Anas al-Mazraoui was earlier arrested in March after having stated the names of some of the imprisoned women's rights activists during a human-rights panel discussion at a book fair.
As of 2 August 2019, a total of 14 of the March/April detainees remained imprisoned without charge.
, al-Yousef, al-Nafjan, al-Hathloul, Shadan al-Onezi and Nouf al-Dosari were tortured during the detention, with Crown Prince advisor Saud al-Qahtani
present at some of the torture sessions.
techniques included beating the women on their feet
, giving them electric shocks and whipping them. The torture location was referred to as "the hotel" or "the officer's guesthouse". One of the women was photographed naked, one was sexually harassed, beaten and groped, one was stripped naked in front of interrogators. Several had black eyes, suffered from trembling, and were unable to walk or stand normally. One was told falsely that a family member had died. Testimony of torture was obtained independently by ALQST
, Amnesty International
and Human Rights Watch
Some of the women have testified about their torture in court.
Aims of the crackdown
Human Rights Watch
(HRW) interpreted the arrests as being aimed at frightening the activists, stating, "The message is clear that anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince's [human] rights agenda faces time in jail."
The arrested campaigners were severely criticised in semi-official media as "traitors".
Social anthropologist Madawi al-Rasheed
interpreted the May arrests as being part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman
's aim to keep all the credit for allowing women to drive
starting from 24 June 2018.
Rothna Begum of HRW said that since the arrests and the public smearing of the activists' reputations, women's Twitter activity was quiet
described the series of arrests as "unprecedented targeting of women human rights defenders".
In June 2018, United Nations special rapporteurs
described the detentions and arrests taking place as a "crackdown" taking place "on a wide scale across" Saudi Arabia and called for the "urgent release" of the detainees.
International support for the detainees
On 2 January 2019, a group of UK
members of parliament and international lawyers requested permission to visit the women detainees.
However, there was no response from the Saudi ambassador Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz
. The UK panel that included former Conservative chair of the foreign affairs select committee Crispin Blunt
concluded that the female detainees had been subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, including assault, threats to life and solitary confinement.
On 14 May 2019, one year after the women human rights activists were arrested by the Saudi authorities, Amnesty International
criticised Saudi Arabia's western allies, including the US, the UK and France for not doing anything for the "immediate and unconditional release" of the activists.
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Last edited on 12 February 2021, at 14:00
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