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Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Detention of Loujain al-Hathloul is illegal

Loujain al-Hathloul

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On 25 June 2020, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued on official opinion saying that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s detention of human rights advocate Loujain al-Hathloul is illegal and arbitrary according to international human rights law. The Working Group called on the Saudi government to release her immediately and compensate her for her illegal detention. It also requested an investigation into the circumstances of her arrest and those involved, as well as amendments to laws which would make such violations impossible in the future.

ESOHR welcomes the Working Group’s opinion and stresses the importance of the immediate and unconditional release of Loujain al-Hathloul and other detainees arbitrarily held under the same conditions.

Loujain al-Hathloul is a human rights advocate known for calling for the end of the ban on women driving. Her arrest, along with the arrest of several other female human rights advocates and rights work leaders, coincided with the beginning of allowing women to drive in 2018. The New York Times quoted Lina al-Hathloul, Loujain’s sister, as saying that the reforms “wouldn’t have happened” without Loujain’s activism.

The Working Group stated that the circumstances of Loujain’s arrest were themselves unbelievably arbitrary. The Abu Dhabi police arrested her on 13 March 2019, while she was driving a car, and handed her over to the Saudi government illegally without an arrest warrant. The Saudi authorities held her in Riyadh for two days without charges. They released her only to re-arrest her when they raided her home two months later. According to the Working Group, Loujain was isolated from the outside world for about a month, during which she was subjected to electric shock, whipping, threats of rape, sexual assault, and death threats. The Working Group expressed its extreme concern as these allegations reach the level of crimes against humanity under international law.

The Working Group’s opinion confirms the role of the UAE governmentin arbitrary detention since its personnel forcibly deported Loujain to Saudi Arabia. While the Emirati government has made no comment on the matter, the Working Group stated that the forced extradition was illegal under international law.

Furthermore, this is not the first time the UN Working Group has claimed that Saudi Arabia has violated international law. In May 2020, the Working Group expressed profound concern over the treatment of MurtajaQureiris, a minor who has been arbitrarily detained for years. Despite the fact that he was a child, the government sought his execution in 2019. In 2018, the Working Group asked the Saudi government to justify its detention of Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, a prominent religious figure subjected to forced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and torture. During its 29 years of work, theWorking Group on Arbitrary Detention has identifiedat least 60 cases in which Saudi Arabia wasin violation of its international obligations.

ESOHR emphasizes that the detention of Loujain al-Hathloul is illegal and that the only remedy is her immediate release, an investigation of all those involved in her detention and torture, and a guarantee that such caseswill not occur in the future. Furthermore, ESOHR stresses that Saudi Arabia’s lack of response to the request of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to releaseLoujain, demonstrates Saudi Arabia’s flouting of long-standing international laws.

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