Saudi Arabia: Internet activist Amani Al-Zain arrested after a large Twitter campaign


According to local reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), on 17 May 2020 the Presidency of State Security arbitrarily arrested Saudi Internet activist Amani Al-Zain, on direct orders issued by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. She remains in detention in an unknown location since her arrest in Jeddah.

The Presidency of State Security, a relatively new agency, was created by order of King Abdullah on 20 July 2017, as an umbrella agency for the counterterrorism and domestic intelligence services. The Presidency of State Security reports directly to the king himself.

An old recording of a video chat between Al-Zain and Egyptian Internet activist Wael Ghonim, has spread widely on social networks in which Al-Zain called the Saudi crown prince by the nickname "Abu Munshar" ("father of the saw"), referring to the order he issued to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose body was cut up with a saw at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 02 October 2020. During the above-mentioned video chat, which originally published on 15 October 2019, the two are seen joking about freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Zain uses her Twitter account, on which she last tweeted on 16 May 2020, to express her different opinions. She has been an opponent of the arrests and killings by the authorities of a large number of human rights defenders, including journalists and Internet activists.

Her arrest came after a large Twitter campaign bearing the Arabic hashtag #Amani_AlZain_insulting_Crown_Prince was initiated by an online army of government supporters who called for her arrest.

GCHR calls for the immediate release of Amani Al-Zain and for all those arrested in violation of their right to freedom of expression, including women’s rights defenders. Over 20 women’s rights defenders and their supporters remain in prison since a crackdown began in May 2018 prior to the lifting of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia on 24 June 2018. Many of those arrested have also been subjected to vicious smear campaigns by pro-government trolls. Most human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia have been imprisoned for long sentences or forced into exile.

GCHR calls for the Saudi authorities to stop criminalising opinions and to respect their international obligations as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).