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Saudi women arrive at a mosque in Riyadh.
Hassan Ammar/AP
Girls & Women

UN Says Saudi Arabia Must Free Women’s Rights Activists


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Humans rights activists deserve to be protected. Saudi Arabia’s strict laws aim to control women, making it dangerous to speak up against gender inequality and discrimination. You can join us in taking action on this issue here

Humans rights experts are seeking justice on behalf of the United Nations for six detained activists in Saudi Arabia.

On Friday, the experts issued a statement demanding that the charges against six activists be dropped and that they be released immediately, Reuters reports. 

Take Action: Urge Leaders to Step up For Women’s Rights and Health 

“No one should ever be punished for exercising their most fundamental human rights, much less face the death penalty,” the statement said.

Saudi Arabia has detained more than a dozen women rights activists since May.

Many of the women being held fought against the country’s restrictive driving ban, which prohibited them from taking the wheel and was lifted in June. Others campaigned for women's’ right to vote in the kingdom, granted in local elections in 2015

On the surface, it may look like the country is easing up on laws that oppress women under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but its treatment of human rights activists suggests otherwise. 

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 things.

Israa Al-Ghomgham, who’s being held by authorities, is at risk of facing the death penalty after being arrested three years ago for supporting anti-government protests and encouraging others to go against the country’s laws. The statement referred to the punishment as ‘reprehensible.’ 

The UN is standing up for five others, including activists Samar Badawi, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Nassima Al-Sadah, Nouf Abdulaziz and Mayya Al-Zahrani—who haven’t been able to communicate with the outside world while in detainment and have been labeled ‘traitors’ by Saudi authorities. 

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“In the context of widespread and systemic gender discrimination, women human rights defenders face particular risks, especially when their work challenges stereotypical ideas about women’s place in society, as in this case,” the UN experts said