Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia: Human rights defenders arrested amid wave of arrests, as ban on women driving lifted


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has received alarming reports about a wave of arrests of writers, academics, on-line activists, and clerics in Saudi Arabia this month. These arrests are characterised by raids on homes in which electronic equipment is confiscated. They come at a time when the Saudi authorities have announced new measures to allow women more freedom including the right to drive.

On 12 September 2017, authorities arrested 42-year-old academic and novelist Dr. Mustafa Al-Hassan. Some reports suggested that his arrest was due to his organsation of the Renaissance Forum in 2011. He is being held in solitary confinement in the prison at the General Intelligence in Al-Dammam city without any access to his family or a lawyer. Also he is reportedly suffering from panic attacks and needs treatment for stage four lung cancer.

Dr. Al-Hassan has written several books, including a recently-published novel entitled "The Year of the Wind". He has given lot of public lectures on various topics in addition to writing several opinion articles in various Saudi newspapers.

On the same day, 12 September, 39-year-old writer, academic and activist Abdullah Al-Malki was kidnapped from his house. His whereabouts are unknown. Al-Malki has published several books and articles in Saudi newspapers and websites, and is known to defend freedom of expression and other rights in the Kingdom. The names of others arrested are not being publicised.

Many other human rights defenders, academics, and clerics are among those arrested in the ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression, among other basic rights such as freedom of assembly and association.

In August, Issa Al-Nukheifi and Essam Koshak were brought to trial for criticising the authorities. See

Issa Al-Hamid and Abdulaziz Al-Shubaili, both members of the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA), were arrested this month to begin serving sentences of 11 and eight years respectively. See:

Since he took power in January 2015, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud implemented a systematic plan to dismantle the human rights movement and to contain the already limited civic space in Saudi Arabia. Prominent human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are serving long prison terms based solely on their peaceful human rights activities.

Other members of ACPRA already in prison include Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Hamid, Sulaiman Al-Rashoodi, Dr. Abdulkareem Al-Khodr, Fawzan Al-Harbi, Saleh Al-Ashwan, and most recently Omar Al-Hamid. See: and

Well-known human rights defenders Waleed Abu Al-Khair, a lawyer, and Raif Badawi, a blogger, are also in prison, and Badawi was lashed, for their human rights activities. Fadhil Al-Manasif, photographer and member of the Saudi human rights organization "Adala Center for Human Rights", journalist Zuhair Al-Kutbi, journalist Alaa Brinji, and writer Nadhir Al-Majed are also serving long sentences. See:

Also this week, the King announced that the ban on women drivers would be overturned, and that a plan must be put in place within a month to proceed to remove all restrictions against women driving by June 2018. As well, women were allowed to enter King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh for the first time this week for national celebrations. Activists have been campaigning to allow women to drive under the Women2Drive campaign, and many have been arrested, including Loujain Al-Hathloul. However, there are still rules in the Kingdom which mandate women to be in the presence of a male guardian at all times, and many human rights defenders and activists have been arrested for taking part in the #IAmMyOwnGuardian campaign, including Essam Koshak and Mariam Al-Otaibi.

While welcoming the news that women will be allowed to drive and take part in more public activities, GCHR condemns the recent arrest of the two writers and academics Dr. Mustafa Al-Hassan and Abduallah Al-Malki, among the many other human rights defenders arrested recently.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Mustafa Al-Hassan and Abduallah Al-Malki, among human rights defenders detained in Saudi Arabia, whose detention relates only to the peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights;
  2. Fully allow women to participate in society with the same rights as men, including by removing the restrictions imposed by the Guardianship System; and
  3. Protect civic space and allow writers, human rights defenders and all citizens to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly in Saudi Arabia.

GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (b and c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”  and to Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.