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The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, called on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release women human rights advocates, saying the longer they are held in prison, the worse it looks for the Saudi government.
In a statement issued on 2 June 2020, coinciding with reports on the absence of information on the whereabouts of activist Loujain al-Hathloul, Lawlor said that women human rights advocates are inspirational figures to all human rights advocates everywhere. The special rapporteur added that they give strength even while in prison.
The statement, Lawlor’s first since she took the role of special rapporteur in May 2020, noted that the Saudi government began a crackdown on women human rights advocates two years ago. Within weeks, a dozenother women and men advocating for women’s rights were arrested.
The statement also said that the advocates had called for giving women the right to drive and ending the discriminatory male guardianship system. Although women have been given the right to drive, those who been peacefully calling for it remain in prison.
In her statement, the rapporteur cited rights organizations regarding the torture to which some of the advocates were subjected, such as electric shock, flogging, sexual threats, and other forms of torture during interrogation, as well as solitary confinement for long periods. She noted that Loujain al-Hathloul was in solitary confinement for the first three months of her detention and held incommunicado from the outside worldwithout access to her family or her lawyer. Since January 2020, she has been subjected to episodes of solitary confinement and now has not been heard from for three weeks.
The rapporteur stated that her predecessor, Michel Forst, and several other rapporteurs had repeatedly called for the release of men and women prisoners, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, and Nouf Abdulaziz. Despite this, al-Hathloul’s family has said they have not heard a thing from her for three weeks and are understandably concerned.
The statement confirmed that UN agencies had previously intensively scrutinized the detention and ill-treatment of human rights advocates. Moreover, 36 countries issued a statement naming ten women and calling for their release; however, they remain in prison.
According to ESOHR statistics, 49 women are currently held in Saudi prisons, including human rights advocates and activists like Naima al-Matroud, Maya al-Zahrani, Israa al-Ghomgham, and others. In addition, eight women are awaiting trial after being released temporarily.
ESOHR welcomes the rapporteur’s statement and emphasizes the importance of her position. ESOHR hopes that the statement will lead to increased pressure on the Saudi government, especially given thisworrying time for the families of prisoners in Saudi Arabia.