Saudi Arabia: Women’s Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia arrested and accused of ‘treason’ - Equality Now

Women’s Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia arrested and accused of ‘treason’

10th June 2018 UPDATE: Two further Women’s Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia have been detained by the kingdom’s state security in the last week. Nouf Al-Jerawi was arrested late last Wednesday. Her fellow activist Mayaa al-Zahrani was later detained reportedly after responding to Nouf’s arrest on Facebook, describing her as “a good woman who was helping the oppressed by volunteering and helping to set them up with lawyers and human rights groups”. 

This brings the total number of detentions to at least 19, after the Saudi General Prosecutor confirmed 17 arrests in a statement last weekend. Whilst some activists have since been released, the General Prosecutor’s statement refers to a continuing investigation.

29 May 2018 UPDATE: Dr. Aisha El'Man'a, Hussa El Sheik, Wala'a Al-Shubar and Madiha El 'Alroush were arrested but have since been released.  We remain deeply concerned with the detention of Louijian El Hathloul, Azzia El Yousef and Iman El Nafjan and the lack of information as to their well-being, whether they have any access to justice and why they are still being detained.  We strongly call on the government of Saudi Arabia to release all human rights activists immediately.

On 15 May 2018, Saudi State Security began arresting prominent women’s rights activists. It is currently unknown in which prison they are being held, whether they have access to a lawyer and if they are being held together or not. 

Those arrested include the activists Loujian El Hathloul, Azzia El Yousef, and Iman El Nafjan,  as well as lawyers and others who support their activism. These activists have campaigned for equality and the protection of women’s rights, including:

  • campaigning to lift the driving ban, 
  • ending male guardianship system,
  • protecting victims of domestic violence by attempting to register a non-profit organization to establish a shelter.

The Government State Security issued a statement which implied that the targeted activists may be charged with treason and that more people will be arrested if found to have been associated with them. This may include lawyers who are trying to provide these activists with access to justice. Fighting to protect women’s rights is not treason. 

The actions by the Government to target these women’s rights defenders and slander their reputation is yet another attempt to shutdown and instill fear among human rights activists.  The threat is real. 


  • The immediate release of those who have been arrested to date 
  • The Saudi government to cease the arrests of women’s rights defenders, including those associated with them. 
  • The Saudi government to enable all women to exercise their fundamental rights as provided for under international law, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which Saudi Arabia ratified in 2000, as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Beijing Platform for Action.

Activists in Saudi Arabia must be free to advocate for women’s rights and equality, including supporting victims of domestic violence, without threat of arrest or intimidation.

Dr. Aisha El Man’a, Hussa El Sheik, Wala'a Al-Shubar and Madiha El ‘Alroush were arrested but have since been released.


In March 2018, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in its fortieth session, expressed concern about the subjection of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia to various forms of harassment, violence and intimidation by law enforcement officials, as well as detention. CEDAW called upon Saudi Arabia to refrain from any reprisals against women human rights defenders and accelerate its efforts to repeal discriminatory legal provisions that require a male guardian’s authorization for women’s exercise of their rights.  

According to the Supreme Order of 26 September 2017, Saudi Arabia announced that driving licenses would be issued on equal terms to women and men by June 2018. However, women have been encountering several obstacles which are preventing the realisation of their right to drive, including the high cost of driver’s licenses and other fees compared to what men pay, as well as limited access to driving schools for women which are only in Jeddah, Riyad and Al Shariqia. Saudi Arabia has announced its ambitious ‘Vision 2030’ plan, which includes programmes to promote and strengthen women’s rights, however the arrests of women’s rights defenders by the Government are violating citizens’ freedoms and creating fear amongst activists. 

Read An Open Letter from Feminist & Human Rights Organizations and Human Rights Defenders Regarding Human Rights Violations against Women in The Arab World and Greater Morocco.

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