Saudi Arabia: Authorities continue systematic crackdown on human rights defenders and activists at home and abroad

24.05.21

Numerous Saudi Arabian activists in the country and abroad have faced persecution for their human rights activities, in violation of their right to freedom of expression. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on the authorities to end their systematic persecution of human rights defenders and activists and uphold their international obligations.

On 09 May 2021, prominent woman human rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul was summoned by the General Directorate of Investigation (Al-Mabahith), which represents the secret police and is affiliated with the Presidency of State Security. It was established in 2017 by royal order and in turn is linked to the Cabinet of Ministers. The purpose of the summons was to request Al-Hathloul’s signature on the document informing her of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the verdict of the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) appeals division, which sentenced her to five years and eight months in prison (with two years and 10 months suspended) on 28 December 2020.

She was released on 10 February 2021 after spending two years and nine months in detention. For more information on the charges against her, see: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/2542

GCHR believes that using the security authorities to notify Al-Hathloul of the Supreme Court’s decision is another open attempt by the Saudi authorities to intimidate Al-Hathloul, as the competent judicial authorities should have implemented this order.

On 07 May 2021, her brother, human rights activist Walid Al-Hathloul tweeted, "The Saudi government has prohibited me from issuing electronic power of attorney through its e-portal. The ban was issued back in November 2020. This is happening while I’ve been living abroad for over 3 years."

Dr. Hala Al-Dosari, a prominent human rights defender and advisory board member of GCHR, commented on Twitter that this measure represents, "Collective punishment and one example of legal harassment of citizens abroad."

GCHR believes that these arbitrary measures are part of the systematic targeting by the Saudi authorities of human rights activists who are working peacefully to defend the civil and human rights of their citizens from exile.

On 04 May 2021, the defense team of internet activist Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan filed an appeal in his case, and are awaiting a date for the court hearing, which has not yet been announced.

On 11 May 2021, his sister, human rights activist Areej Al-Sadhan, posted the following tweet: "Saudi officials are still denying us any calls or visits! Meanwhile, they are spreading lies & misinformation! What are they hiding? Are they back to torturing my brother?? We are very concerned!" On 05 April 2021, the SCC in Riyadh sentenced Al-Sadhan to 20 years in prison. 

Informed local sources confirmed to GCHR that Internet activist Amani Al-Zain is still being held in an Al-Mahabith secret prison since her arbitrary arrest on 17 May 2020, and these sources added that she was placed in solitary confinement since then. She was not allowed to communicate with her family so far, and has been interrogated for long hours and late at night by interrogators who constantly threatened her.

The reason for her arrest was an old recording of a conversation between her and Egyptian internet activist Wael Ghoneim, which spread widely on social networks, during 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 25 April 2021, the SCC in Riyadh sentenced human rights defender Khaled Al-Omair to seven years in prison after convicting him of trumped-up charges that include "leading a campaign to draft a new constitution for the country" and "launching a hashtag for this campaign on social media networks." It uses hashtag: #The_people_want_a_new_constitution

The authorities did not allow Al-Omair to see his sick father and prevented him from attending his funeral after his death in 2019, as well as preventing him from visiting his sick mother in the hospital.

Al-Omair has been detained without charge since 06 July 2018, after he filed a complaint with the Saudi Royal Court against an Al-Mabahith officer, who allegedly tortured him during his imprisonment from December 2008 to April 2017.

On 12 October 2020, Internet activist Sakina Al-Dakhil was arrested and has been detained since then in an Al-Mabahith Prison in Al-Dammam city.

She was brutally arrested by the security forces after a raid on her house, in addition to other homes in the town of Al-Rabi’ia and the Umm Al-Jazm neighborhood in Al-Qatif city. During these raids, three women, including Al-Dakhil, were arrested, and money, phones, and computers 

were illegally confiscated.

Al-Dakhil wrote articles about prisoners of conscience and documented violations by publishing them on social media networks and some websites. Reliable sources confirmed to GCHR earlier this month that the reason for her arrest was due to her public show of solidarity with prisoners of conscience, and her documentation of the violations that take place on a daily basis in the country.

On 16 March 2021, Internet activist Dr. Lujain Daghstani posted her last tweets on her Twitter account, and stopped tweeting. The Twitter account of her husband, engineer Rayan Samman, continues to be functioning.

Dr. Daghstani has more than 259,000 followers, with whom she engages in a daily dialogue in which she affirms that they are empowered to face daily problems, especially women. The Daghstani and Samman Twitter accounts have the same banners calling for simplicity.

On 08 March 2021, International Women’s Day, Daghstani tweeted, "To every woman: Thank you for your existence, and for being you with your own makeup, distinction and uniqueness."

On 26 February 2021, Daghstani published on her Twitter account an episode of the podcast "Gate of All", which included a dialogue with her husband, Samman, in which they talked about many topics, including inner peace in the human soul as an important value. The programme hosts individuals who have experiences worth sharing with the world in audio content.

Reliable sources confirmed to GCHR that Daghstani decided to stop tweeting after the Al-Mabahith summoned Daghstani for interrogation about old tweets that she published in 2013 and 2014, and later deleted. They included the call to respect human beings as a supreme value in the homeland and to change mentalities that do not support reform.

In November 2020, electronic flies driven by the Saudi security services launched the following hashtag against her: #Lujain_Daghstani_offends_homeland

Numerous press reports followed, confirming that the Al-Mabahith had arrested her after summoning her for investigation.

GCHR calls on the Saudi authorities to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and internet activists and drop all charges against them;
  2. Immediately stop targeting human rights activists working in exile; and
  3. Ensure that all human rights defenders and internet activists in Saudi Arabia who carry out their legitimate work in defense of human rights are able to operate without facing restrictions, including judicial harassment.