Amnesty: Saudi Arabia: Women’s rights reforms must be followed by release of detained activists


August 02,2019

Saudi Arabia must follow up on crucial reforms announced today to address women’s rights by ending its persecution of women’s rights defenders and immediately and unconditionally releasing those who are currently detained for their peaceful activism, said Amnesty International.

Saudi Arabian newspapers announced major reforms to several laws easing some of the major restrictions which are imposed on women as part of the country’s repressive male guardianship system. The reforms will allow women the right to obtain a passport that should make it possible for them to travel without the permission of a male guardian. They also give women equal rights to lead household and some family-related matters.

“The reforms announced today are a significant but long overdue step forward for women’s rights. These changes are a clear testament to the tireless campaigning of women’s rights activists who have battled against rampant discrimination in Saudi Arabia for decades,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director. 

Many of these activists are currently detained, on trial or facing travel bans for their peaceful activism. Several women’s rights activists detained during a wave of arrests last year endured torture, sexual abuse and other forms of ill-treatment during the first three months of their detention. They were detained incommunicado with no access to their families or lawyers. 

Several women face charges related to their human rights work, including “promoting women’s rights” and “calling for the end of the male guardianship system.” Three of them, Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada, remain behind bars while several others have been temporarily released but remain on trial. 

At least 14 individuals who have supported the women’s rights movement, including male relatives of women human rights defenders, are also currently detained without charge since being arbitrarily arrested since April 2019. 

Those arrested include Salah al-Haidar, the son of human rights activist Aziza Al-Yousef, who was temporarily released but remains on trial after more than a year of a terrible ordeal. Others include Abdullah al-Duhailan, a journalist, novelist and advocate for Palestinian rights and Fahad Abalkhail, who has supported the Women to Drive Campaign. 

“If Saudi Arabia wants to show the world it is truly serious about improving the rights of women, the authorities must drop all charges against the defenders of women’s rights who have been crucial in pushing for these kinds of reforms through their activism. They must immediately and unconditionally release all those who are in detention for fighting for these most basic of rights,” said Lynn Maalouf. 

For decades women in Saudi Arabia have been subjected to repressive male guardianship laws that have imposed restrictions on their rights to travel independently, work or study – shackling several aspects of women’s lives to their male relatives. 

The amendments published today will now allow women over the age of 21 to obtain passports, which will significantly ease travel without the permission of a guardian. They also grant women the right to register marriages, divorces, births and deaths and to obtain family records. Women will still require a guardian’s permission to be released from prison or to leave a shelter where they have sought protection from domestic abuse or violence. They are also still required to seek their guardian’s approval to marry.