Geneva – The Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties said the move made by the Saudi authorities on Thursday regarding the release of three women’s rights activists in the Kingdom is a step in the right direction but remains incomplete unless it is followed by their full release and that of all detained activists, in addition to the dropping of false charges against them.
The Geneva Council considers that the Saudi authorities decision reflects that Riyadh has bowed to international pressure from various parties including human rights organizations to stop its human rights violations, such as the suspension of arbitrary detention of hundreds of activists because of their opposing views and demands for reform.
During its 40th session concluded on March 22, the Human Rights Council condemned Saudi Arabia’s violation of fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of expression. More than 30 countries, including all 28 EU member States, called on Saudi Arabi to release all detained activists.
In this regard, the Geneva Council warns the international community of being fooled by the tentative measures taken by the Saudi authorities to appease the pressure and improve their reputation in the wake of criticisms the kingdom has been facing since the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. This appears to be no more than temporary and limited release of a few activists while the fate of remaining detainees is still uncertain so far.
The Geneva Council noted the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) announcement that the Criminal Court in Riyadh, specialized in terrorism cases, ruled that “three of the detainees should be temporarily released” without specifying that they were women.
The statement confirmed that “the provisional release has been granted after examining the requests made during the hearings and after the necessary regulatory controls were achieved. The Court gave then its approval”.
The statement pointed out that the temporary release comes “while the Court continues to consider their cases and they continue to attend the trial hearings (…) until the issuance of final judgments, which have become enforceable, on the charges against them”.
The news agency did not mention activists’ names, while a relative of one of them announced the release of the blogger Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yusuf, a retired university professor, and academic Rokaya al-Mohareb after a secret trial session, which local and international media were prevented from attending.
During their trial, 11 activists responded to charges against them, which Saudi authorities said included contact with foreign media and human rights organizations.
The session attended by activists’ relatives was a highly emotional moment. Some of the defendants cried and consoled each other in front of a panel of three judges in the Riyadh Criminal Court. They accused the interrogators of subjecting them to electric shocks, as well as flogging and groping them in detention, according to two persons who were among those allowed to enter the courtroom
At least one female activist tried to commit suicide following her mistreatment in prison, according to a relative. The activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, blogger Iman al-Nafjan and university professor Hatoon al-Fassi, were arrested last May as part of a massive security crackdown on human rights both male and female activists accused of “co-ordinating activity to undermine security, stability and social peace in the Kingdom”, according to what the prosecutor said earlier this month. The official media have described them as “traitors” and “embassy agents”.
The Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties believes this measure taken by the Saudi authorities is very late and must be followed by the suspension of unfair trials against these activists as well as the release of all prisoners of conscience of both sexes in the Kingdom. The Council calls on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all detained Saudi women activists at the third hearing scheduled for next week. All false charges must be dropped; the victims should be compensated for the damage and abuses they suffered during their detention period, including psychological and physical torture as well as sexual harassment.
On the sidelines of the 40th Human Rights Council session, concluded recently, the Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties organized a panel discussion and presented in detail these violations