Saudi Arabia: JOINT STATEMENT: GCHR and partners welcome the release of two Saudi WHRDs and call on releasing others


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and partners including Free Saudi Activists Coalition welcome the release of two women human rights defenders (WHRDs) from Saudi prisons. Yesterday, 10 February 2021, Loujain Al-Hathlouland Nouf Abdulaziz reported being released conditionally from prison after spending over two years and a half in jail for advocating for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Lina Al-Hathloul shared the news on her Twitter with a joyful photo showing the two sisters on a video call with big smiles drawn on their faces. She captioned it “Loujain is at home!”

Loujain and Nouf were among women rights activists detained in a crackdown on women human rights defenders and activists in Saudi Arabia in spring 2018. Some of them have been released conditionally or are still in prison including Nassima Al-Sadaa and Samar Badawi

Women defenders in Saudi Arabia have been for a long time suffering in silence under the patriarchal society and male-dominated decision-making authoritarianism on all levels. Yet, the sacrifices these prominent WHRDs endured to bring this to light globally included being subjected to torture, enforced disappearance, smearing campaigns and hunger strikes among many others.  

Saudi WHRDs who were detained during the 2018 clampdown on women’s rights defenders were reported to be imperilled by rigorous torture inflicted on them systematically and in the presence of high-profile Saudi officials. GCHR documented the torture of these Saudi WHRDs and submitted a joint submission to the Committee Against Torture (CAT), detailing the physical and psychological ill-treatment such as electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault.

Al-Hathloul, backed up with the Free Saudi Activists Coalition intensive advocacy, her family’s support and the international community including the UN independent experts; has bravely spoken out about the reported maltreatment.  She also requested the judge to investigate her allegations during her hearing courts, which was denied. Despite the unfair trial she went through, which has been criticised by human rights organisations globally as Saudi justice fails in lack of transparency and independence of the legal system.

In October 2020, Al-Hathloul began a hunger strike to protest the conditions of her detention after being denied regular access to her family. This prompted a UN women’s rights committee to issue a statement saying it was “gravely concerned about Ms Hathloul’s physical and mental health and well-being.” 

GCHR believes that many Saudi women and women’s activists are still in prisons with no one to back them up as they remain low profile or muted by their families and societal pressure.

“It’s patchy happiness! And still incomplete until we see all Saudi WHRDs released unconditionally and totally free, their torture’s being investigated independently, and perpetrators are held accountable.” said Weaam Youssef, GCHR WHRDs Programme Manager. “WHRDs in Saudi Arabia have withstood the indescribable, for demanding what seems to be legitimised by the current state that promotes itself as progressive and reformative. The road to equality and rights in Saudi Arabia is still long and very bumpy and alternating the current unjust system needs a holistic approach and collaborative work,” she added.

GCHR’s advocacy with Free Saudi Activists Coalition partners such as the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), CIVICUS, ALQST Women’s March Global and others has paid off after more than two years of constant and tireless work through strategic campaigning, including UN mechanisms (UPR, CAT, CSW, UNHRC submission to UN experts), business and human rights, and many online campaigns.

We reiterate our calls on the Saudi authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all WHRDs and women activists from Saudi prisons, and drop all charges against them; 
  • Investigate the torture of WHRDs in Saudi prisons independently and transparently; 
  • Support WHRDs to work in a reformed environment, enjoying freedom of speech and assembly away from any risk and intimidation for their legitimate work, as per the UPR recommendations that was supported by the state; and 
  • Promote equality by fundamental changes that starts with the legal system to reflect a genuine reform

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​The Al-Hathloul family will be holding a virtual press briefing today at 8am EST / 2pm CET (RSVP here), where they will give an update and take questions. RSVP HERE: