Exiled Saudi Writer Refuses to Stop Fighting for Women's Rights
Journalist Reem Suleiman was forced to flee Saudi Arabia, but that isn’t stopping her from seeking justice for women back home.
Now Suleiman wants to start a new women’s rights advocacy organization, Al Jazeera reports.
"My character has become stronger than ever before, and [now] I can fight injustice in front of a totalitarian regime, which does not hesitate to abuse," she said.
Saudi authorities jailed and tortured Suleiman after Saud al-Qahtani, a former right-hand man to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ordered her to stop writing. Formerly a columnist for government-controlled newspapers, Suleiman’s writing was not particularly controversial, according to Middle East Eye. She believes she was targeted for having an independent point of view.
“Saudi authorities in 2018 continued to arbitrarily arrest, try, and convict peaceful dissidents,” Human Rights Watch explained of the country’s censorship crackdown last year.
Heard very disturbing, but not surprising news, from Human Rights Watch about this group of women in Saudi Arabia being detained, given electric shocks, tortured and in some cases raped 😔— Rubina Smith (@rubinasmith2010) January 25, 2019
Suleiman, who is seeking asylum in the Netherlands, alleges that prison officials psychologically and physically abused her, permanently damaging one of her hands. This treatment led her to contemplate suicide, she says.
The Saudi government is known for retaliating against anyone who openly opposes its regime. Authorities detained more than a dozen women rights activists since 2018, some who reported security brutally tortured them. The government is imprisoning them for being “traitors,” alleging that they conspired with foreign entities and spread bad morale. The majority of detained activists also publicly opposed the country’s male guardianship system, requiring women to get approval from a male relative before doing most basic things.
In early January, teenager Rahaf al-Qunun ran away from her parents to escape Saudi Arabia’s restrictive laws. Her journey to seek asylum drew international attention to how urgently women in the country need reform.
Suleiman still feels the kingdom is keeping a close watch on her from abroad. Saudi internet users are harassing her with abusive messages on social media. She says she will only be at peace when others are free to express themselves.