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Three women’s rights activists have been temporarily released after being held in custody for almost a year in Saudi Arabia. They were imprisoned for campaigning to lift the driving ban and end the country’s male guardianship laws.

The activists, who were freed after they appeared before a three-judge panel in the capital of Riyadh on Wednesday, reportedly include blogger Eman al-Nafjan, university professor Aziza al-Youssef, and academic Rokaya al-Mohareb.  At the hearing, the women alleged they had been subjected to sexual abuse and torture throughout their imprisonment. At least 11 women’s rights activists still face charges. The details of the activists' release are unknown, and their cases are still going to move through criminal court, according to reports.

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“We are demanding for the unconditional release of these women, who have to go to their families, they have to be with their kids,” Suad Abu-Dayyeh, the Middle East and North Africa consultant at human rights organization Equality Now, told Global Citizen. 

“It is not a crime, if you are a defendant for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere,” Suad Abu-Dayyeh said.

The Saudi government imprisoned the activists for being “traitors,” alleging that they conspired with international media and human rights groups, and spread bad morale. The government denies the activists were tortured or harassed.

Read More: Imprisoned Women's Rights Activists Share Details of Torture in Saudi Arabia

Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns, told Global Citizen that after months of campaigning on the issue, the activists’ release is a huge relief.“This is an important reminder that activism works and international public pressure is needed more than ever,” Hadid said. 

Hadid urges the international community to continue campaigning until all charges against the activists are dropped.

“Now we need to make sure the Saudi authorities know that we won’t stop. As global citizens, we must ramp up our pressure and calls for these brave women to be freed,” Hadid advised.

“We need to send a clear message to the Saudi authorities that women’s rights activism must not be criminalized.”

People around the world can write to Saudi embassies, attend planned protests, and take action online to stand in solidarity with these activists, Hadid explained. Social media is a particularly useful campaigning tool, Abu-Dayyeh said.

“We have the right, in the Arab region, to raise our voices loud,” she said.

But Abu-Dayyeh wants to stress the importance of taking action to end Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system as well. The system requires women to consult their male guardian, usually a close male relative, before partaking in basic activities, such as travel, work, and school. She said the law is “suffocating” women in the country.

Over the past couple of years, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanlifted the country’s decades-long driving ban and allowed women to attend sporting events, but those who stand up against the country’s oppressive laws under have experienced serious consequences.  

“I don’t think they’re really genuine in the reform they’re doing propaganda about,” Abu-Dayyeh said.

“Women in Saudi Arabia are demanding basic rights, they have the right to do so,” she continued, “It won’t hurt for women to have their rights.”


Demand Equity

Saudi Arabia Temporarily Frees 3 Women's Rights Activists

By Leah Rodriguez