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Saudi Arabia: Ten months since the arrest of visual artist Noor al-Musallam for tweets written when she was a minor

Noor al-Musallam

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Visual artist Noor Said al-Musallam has been held in prison since April 2018, without just legal cause. She was arrested afterquestioning at the General Investigation Directoratestation in the city of Anak, located in the eastern governorate of Qatif.

Sources told the European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) that members of the Mabahith had called Noor al-Musallam’s father a few days before her arrest, demanding that he bring her to the station “to answer some questions.” Her father told them that she was not at home currently because she was studying at King Faisal University in Al-Ahsa. They informed him that he must bring her in as soon as she returned from Al-Ahsa.

The sources stated that her brother picked her up at the train station in Dammam immediately upon her arrival from university and took her to the Mabahith building. During the questioning, she was presented with old tweets she had written in 2015, while she was a minor, as well as other new tweets. Her old tweets expressed solidarity with Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr’s peaceful demands for social justice. Al-Nimr was executed by the Saudi government in early 2016, after a notably unfair trial. Other tweets expressed political opinions. The ESOHR has documented a number of cases in which Saudi Arabia has convicted individuals on charges of storing photographs or video of Sheikh al-Nimr on their electronic devices.

These sources also indicated that Noor was released after questioning. She was called back the next day for questioning and also permitted to go home. However, she was called back again for a third day, and, instead of being allowed to leave, she was arrested on the spot and transported to the Mabahith prison in Dammam.

Noor al-Musallam (born in 1998) is from the city of Safwa in Qatif governorate in eastern Saudi Arabia. Before her arrest, she was studying at King Faisal University in the Al Ahsa governorate. She is also an activist and visual artist who is active in the Manarat Mushriqa organization that includes many artists who paint murals and decorate gardens in public spaces.

After the terrorist bombings at Shia mosques in 2015 and 2016, Noor al-Musallam participated in community committees to protect and monitor the mosques.

2018 has been a dark year for women human rights advocates and activists in Saudi Arabia, with many of them being arrested. In May, the government launched a vicious campaign of arrests against many female human rights advocates and women’s rights leaders, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Yousef. The arrests appeared to be retaliation for their role in the feminist struggle.Human rights advocates Nouf Bint Abdulaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani were arrested in June, while the government arrested Nassima al-Sada and Samar Badawi in July. This was preceded in September 2017by a wide-scale campaign of arbitrary arrests targeting clerics, businessmen, and activists, including nurse Fatima Al Nasif and Dr. Rokaya al-Mohareb, who remain in arbitrary detention to date. Also,Naima al-Matarud was arrested in 2016 and sentenced to six years in prison for her human rights work.Saudi Arabia launched these crackdowns on women activists and human rights advocates in 2015, with the arrest of human rights advocateIsraa al-Ghomgham. The public prosecutor sought the death sentenceagainst her for her lawful human rights activities, before later amending it to a jail sentence.

The ESOHR believes that Noor al-Musallam will not receive a fair trial because of the major shortcomings in the judicial system and its lack of independence, and it is also concerned that she will be subjected to harsh treatment or torture. We ascertain that Saudi Arabia – with the arrest of al-Musallam on the basis of tweets she wrote as a minor – is blatantly violating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which it acceded in 1995.

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