Home » Reports » Prominent Saudi Human Rights Defender, Noha Al-Balawi is Arbitrarily Detained, Despite Claims of ‘Reforms’.

Prominent Saudi Human Rights Defender, Noha Al-Balawi is Arbitrarily Detained, Despite Claims of ‘Reforms’.

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Amidst a fanfare of apparent ‘reforms’by the Saudi government, comes news of the arbitrary arrest and detention of prominent Saudi female human rights defender, Noha Al- Balawi, who became known for her outspoken activism via social media and widely circulated video clips. Noha was arbitrarily arrested by the Saudi authorities on Tuesday 23rd January 2018, and has since been arbitrarily detained at Tabuk general prison. After almost three weeks of detention, Noha will stand trial on Monday 12th February at Tabuk district court.According to sources, her arrest is a direct reprisal related to her outspoken activism on political and civil rights issues, including her women’s rights andin particular her active role in a campaign, which she acknowledged on twitter, entitled “No taxes without political representation”.
Noha, aged 23 (born April 1994), a fashion and apparel student at TabukUniversity, became well known for her peaceful, yet outspoken online activism via social media and a series of video clips. Noha’s twitter account (@i_noha9) which has since been deleted, showed Noha’s activism spanned over several key issues affecting Saudi civil society, including women’s rights, political representation, separation of powers and the release of prisoners of conscience and diplomatic relations between Saudi and Israel. Prior to her arrest, and despite the risks to her personal safety, the intensity of Noha’s activism increased, in response to the upsurge of arrest taking place within the kingdom, as well as in support of hashtag campaigns such as #EndGuardianship, which call for an end to the Saudi’s male guardianshipsystem, a campaign which has been in going for over two years.

Noha was arrested and detained after being summoned for investigation by the General investigation and prosecution department. Two days prior to Noha’s arrest, a male family member was detained for two days and heavily pressurized into giving information about Noha, following which his wifewas threatened in her home, and told that he would remain imprisoned if they did not help them to locate Noha. Noha was later located and contacted by the authorities via telephone several times and summoned to attend a security police station in Tabuk. She attended with her father. Firstly, her father was interrogated in isolation, and then they interrogated Noha. Following this she was immediately arrested.

According to trusted sources, Noha has not been afforded a lawyer or given access to any legal counsel. Sources are concerned for Noha’s safety within the prison, as they report she is being held in prison amongst violent criminals. Her family has been permitted prison visits, which occur every Thursday and Sunday.

The recent arrest of Noha signals that there has been no change in Saudi Arabia’s policy towards peaceful activists and human rights defenders. Recent ‘reforms’ related to women driving and women’s attending mixed concerts can only be regarded as superficial, when women’s rights activist continue to be detained simultaneously. Such reforms represent a mere public relations stunt, aimed at duping the international community.

The arbitrary detention of Noha contradicts the Saudi government’s claims that “The Kingdom’s laws work together to prohibit discrimination against women, one of the consequences of such discrimination being that it lessens or hampers recognition of women’s human rights” which was submitted in November 2017 to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Noha joins many other female human rights defenders and activists who have been targeted or detained. In November 2017, the Saudi authorities arrested human rights defender Naema Al-Matrod and sentenced her to six years imprisonment and a six year travel ban. Woman’s rights activist Maryam Al-Otaibi was arrested in April 2017 and detained for over 100 days after male family member instructed her arrest for disobedience, despite her claims of domestic violence. Similarly, Amna Al-Jaed was reported missing in November 2017, after Saudi authorities failed to protect her, due to their strict guardianship laws, from threats of violence from her male family members. Furthermore, Israa Al-Ghomgham was also arrested in December 2015 in connection with protesting, she remains in detention. Lujain Hathloul, a human rights defender for womens issues, who defied the Saudi women’s driving ban in 2014,was imprisoned for 73 days. Similarly, Samar Badawi, a Saudi female human rights defender, continues to be harassed by the Saudi authorities, having being summoned for investigation, arrested, then later released on several occasions in relation to her activism work.

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) would like to confirm that Noha Al-Balawi and the other imprisoned women human rights activists mentioned in this report are prisoners of conscience, who has been detained on the basis of exercising their fundamental rights of freedom of opinion and expression, as articulated in article 19 of the UDHR.

ESOHR calls upon the government of Saudi Arabia to abide by its international human rights obligations, as an active member of the human rights council, and release prisoner of conscience Noha without immediately and without charge.

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