RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has released two prominent women’s rights activists held in detention for nearly three years after they served their terms.
“Human rights defenders Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah have been released following the expiry of the sentences against them,” London-based Saudi rights group ALQST for Human Rights said in a tweet.
The activists were arrested in August 2018 as part of a widening government crackdown against peaceful dissent. Most of those imprisoned campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.
Badawi received the International Women of Courage Award by the United States in 2012 for challenging the Saudi male guardianship system, and was among the first women who signed a petition calling on the government to allow women to drive, vote and run in local elections.
She is also the sister of Raif Badawi, a prominent human rights campaigner, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014 on charges of “insulting Islam” on his blog.
Al-Sadah, from the restive Shia-majority Qatif province, has campaigned for the right to drive and to abolish the guardianship system. She was a candidate in the 2015 local elections which saw women run in elections for the first time. Her name was ultimately removed by authorities.
Some of the women’s rights activists arrested in 2018 include Eman al-Nafjan, Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Aisha al-Manea, Ibrahim Modeimigh and Mohammed al-Rabea.
Prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released in February who has served half of her custodial sentence on broad cybercrime and counterterrorism charges. She still faces a five-year travel ban.
Saudi Arabia eventually overturned the decades-old ban on women driving, but authorities justified the arrests by saying the activists had suspicious contacts with foreign entities and offering financial support to “enemies overseas”.
— ALQST for Human Rights (@ALQST_En) June 27, 2021