Saudi Arabia must immediately release all women’s rights defenders, say UN experts
Saudi Arabia: Human rights defenders
12 October 2018
GENEVA (12 October 2018) – UN human rights experts* are urging Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release all women human rights defenders, including six defenders who remain in jail on charges relating to their peaceful defence of human rights.
Ms. Israa Al-Ghomgham was detained in 2015 for her involvement in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011. Ms. Samar Badawi, Ms. Nassima Al-Sadah, Ms. Nouf Abdulaziz, Ms. Mayya Al-Zahrani, and Ms. Hatoon Al-Fassi – who had been particularly active in campaigning for women’s rights, including the right to vote and to drive – have been in pre-trial detention for the past four months.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the actions of the Saudi authorities against these women human rights defenders and we call on them, as a matter of urgency, to immediately release and drop the charges against all of them,” the experts said.
Ms. Samar Badawi, Ms. Nassima Al-Sadah, Ms. Nouf Abdulaziz, Ms. Mayya Al-Zahrani, and Ms. Hatoon Al-Fassi are all being held in incommunicado detention. “We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately make the whereabouts of these five human rights defenders known and to grant them access to their families and lawyers,” the experts said.
The experts expressed acute concern for Ms. Israa Al-Ghomgham, who is being tried in Riyadh’s Specialised Criminal Court - set up to handle terrorism-related cases, for charges that appear to lack legal bases. She has had no legal representation during her trial.
“It is reprehensible that Ms. Al-Ghomgham is facing the death penalty for asserting her fundamental human right to peaceful assembly. No one should ever be punished for exercising their most fundamental human rights, much less face the death penalty. Any execution carried out under such conditions would amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life,” the experts said.
Referring to Ms. Al-Ghomgham’s trial in the Specialised Criminal Court, the experts condemned the conflation of human rights activities with terrorism. “Measures aimed at countering terrorism should never be used to suppress or curtail human rights work,” they said. They also expressed concern that the targeting of Ms. Al-Ghomgham might in some way be motivated by the fact that she belongs to Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority.
“We wish to remind the Saudi Government of its obligation to protect and promote the rights of all human rights defenders as they peacefully carry out their legitimate work. In the context of widespread and systemic gender discrimination, women human rights defenders face particular risks, especially when their work challenges stereotypical ideas about women’s place in society, as in this case.”
The experts are in contact with Saudi authorities about this case.
The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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