One month ago, on October 2nd, Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. What happened next was a series of dramatic and horrifying events that unfolded as we watched in real time on our screens and smart phones from around the world. His friends, family, colleagues, activists, politicians, and concerned people from around the world asked, “Where is Jamal?”
Our calls of “Where is Jamal?” have now become calls for “Justice for Jamal,” who, as we now know, was tortured and killed inside the Saudi consulate.
Jamal was disappeared by Saudi state agents, a victim of enforced disappearance, which is a crime under international law. And Jamal is far from the only Saudi victim of this heinous crime.
Women’s rights activists disappeared
In May, a significant number of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia were forcibly disappeared. They were taken by state agents from their family, friends, and fellow activists, likely to punish them for their peaceful advocacy in support of women’s rights, and to make a lesson of them to other activists, to stifle voices critical of the Saudi regime. At first, they were held incommunicado. No one, not even their families, knew where they were. Finally, their whereabouts was disclosed.
But the activists, some of whom we cannot name because it could put their families in danger in Saudi Arabia, remain in prison. University of British Columbia graduate Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Youssef, are three of those who remain in prison. None have been charged with any crime, but we fear they could be charged with national security-related offenses, which are accompanied by lengthy prison sentences.
Just days after the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia was lifted in June, when media around the world were applauding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and labelling him a great reformer, Hatoon al-Fassi, a prominent women’s rights activist and academic, was arrested. She continues to be held without charge.
In July, women human rights defender Amal al-Harbi was arrested. She too remains in detention without charge, and without access to legal representation.
Others detained more recently include women’s rights activists Nouf Abdulaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani.
Then in August, yet more women were taken, including Nassima al-Sada and Samar Badawi. Their enforced disappearances prompted Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland to issue a Tweet calling for their release, as well as the release of Samar’s brother, the jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.
Saudi authorities have targeted the families of the women human rights defenders who have been arrested, and for this reason, loud cries for their release have not come from within Saudi Arabia. It is too dangerous to speak out.
The disappearances of Samar and Nassima did not unfold on our smart devices. But their disappearances were not less insidious than the disappearance of Jamal.
Samar and Nassima continue to be held incommunicado and are in desperate need of continued global action to secure their release.
Say their names
They are some of the women who have been arrested and continue to be held without charge in Saudi Arabia because they had the courage to speak out publicly against a ban on women driving, about violence against women, about the male guardianship system, and in support of gender equality. We must say their names. We must recognize their couragous activism in the midst of a kingdom-wide crackdown on freedom of expression. And we must remember that these women are not the only women’s rights activists in detention; they are just the only activists we can publicly name.
We must not stand by while Saudi authorities attempt to decimate the women’s rights movement in Saudi Arabia by arresting activists and threatening their families. The arrests have forced other activists to leave the country or cease their public activism to protect themselves and their families.
We must take action in solidarity with the families of those detained, and with Saudi activists who want to but are unable to publicly advocate for the release of their fellow activists.
Take action now
Where is Samar? Where is Nassima? Release the Saudi feminists!
Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on freedom of expression, including persecution of women’s rights activists, must end! Join Amnesty in taking action now to secure the release of women human rights defenders, of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, call for justice for Jamal, and call on Canada to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia.