UN demands unconditional release of HR defenders in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Geneva: UN on Tuesday urged the Government of Saudi Arabia to unconditionally release all human rights defenders and activists who have been detained for their peaceful human rights work, including their decades-long campaigns for the lifting of the driving ban for women.

“Any investigations must be held in a transparent manner, with full respect for due process rights. All human rights defenders should be able to carry out their crucial human rights work without fear of reprisals or prosecution,” Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani said.

Shamdasani expressed concers about the continuing arrests and apparently arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders and activists in Saudi Arabia, including women’s rights activists.

Since 15 May, at least 15 Government critics were detained and eight of them were later temporarily released until the completion of their “procedural review”.

“In some cases, their whereabouts are unknown and there is a serious lack of transparency in the processing of their cases. While the authorities have made statements about possible serious charges, that could lead to prison terms of up to 20 years, it is unclear whether charges have been laid in any of these cases,” Shamdasani said.

Among those who reportedly remain detained are Hatoon al-Fassi, a leading voice for women’s participation in civil life in Saudi Arabia and one of the first women to acquire a Saudi drivers’ license. She was detained between 21 and 24 June. Also in detention are human rights defender Khaled Al-Omair, who has not been contactable since he was taken on 6 July to Al-Ha’ir Political Prison; women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Nouf Abdelaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani. They also include al-Hathloul’s 80-year-old lawyer, Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, and activist Abdulaziz Meshaal.

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