Reports on Women Human Rights Defenders Advocacy to free Saudi women’s human rights activists detained since May 2018
Despite certain political and social reforms made since the turn of the century, the authorities in Saudi Arabia continue their decades-long clampdown on dissent, human rights activism, and independent reporting through the media. While some informal associational interactions are tolerated, publicly active civil society organisations are almost non-existent. Human rights organisations face brutal repression, including the targeted harassment, imprisonment, torture, and public flogging of their leaders. Women’s rights to associate, peacefully assemble, and express themselves are even further violated through an overt, state-driven policy of discrimination based on gender. The 2017 counterterrorism law2 increased the authorities’ powers to stamp out dissent through wide-ranging clauses that criminalised virtually all dissent. A new civil society law passed in 2019 is thought unlikely to reduce government control of the sector. People in Saudi Arabia have no legal right to freedom of peaceful assembly and can be flogged for taking part in a public demonstration. Excessive force is often used to disperse the few protests that do take place. Free expression is heavily curtailed and although the internet has provided an avenue for discussion for millions of Saudis in recent years, online content is censored and severe penalties are imposed for any criticism of the government that appears on social media. Human rights defenders face travel bans, arbitrary arrests, lengthy prison sentences, flogging, and torture as well as reprisals for interacting with the UN Human Rights Council.