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Rubio Joins Menendez, Colleagues Calling for Saudi Government to Release Wrongfully Detained Women Political Prisoners
Miami, FL — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, in demanding the immediate release of women political prisoners who remain unjustly detained in Saudi Arabia. In their bipartisan letter to Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States, the Senators emphasized the heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in detention and echoed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s call for governments to release prisoners detained solely for expressing dissenting views.
“We call for releasing these individuals on the merits of their cases, but today, we also urge you to act quickly on health and humanitarian grounds,” wrote the Senators. “The rapid spread of COVID-19 is a threat to all people and nations, but prison populations are at a heightened risk due to the inability to practice social distancing, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate medical care. We encourage the leaders of the Kingdom to seize this opportunity during this global crisis by immediately releasing these individuals.”
In calling for all prisoners of conscience to be released, the Senators specifically highlighted the cases of Loujain al-Hathloul, Nouf Abdulaziz, Maya’a al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, and Nassima al-Sada, who remain arbitrarily detained for acts of peaceful expression and activism in advancing women’s and human rights in Saudi Arabia.
“These women have been wrongly detained simply for exercising their fundamental rights, and justice demands they be released,” continued the Senators.
Joining Senators Rubio and Menendez in sending the letter were U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Ed Markey (D-MA).
Rubio and Cardin are the Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues.
The full text of the letter is below.
Your Royal Highness:
We write to request that you urge political leadership in Riyadh to release women political prisoners being unjustly detained in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These extraordinary women peacefully worked to advance the cause of women’s and human rights in the Kingdom.
We call for releasing these individuals on the merits of their cases, but today, we also urge you to act quickly on health and humanitarian grounds. The rapid spread of COVID-19 is a threat to all people and nations, but prison populations are at a heightened risk due to the inability to practice social distancing, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate medical care. [i] In March 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called upon governments to release “political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views” in order to slow the spread of the virus and protect the health of both detainees and the broader population.[ii] We encourage the leaders of the Kingdom to seize this opportunity during this global crisis by immediately releasing these individuals.
While we are greatly concerned about all individuals detained for acts of peaceful expression, we draw your attention to five women political prisoners in particular, who remain in detention:
In May 2018, Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent women’s rights activist who campaigned against the driving ban and the male guardianship system, was detained and held without charges or trial for ten months. [iii] She was later charged with promoting women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.[iv] Last year, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that her imprisonment and deprivation of liberty are arbitrary.[v] She should never have been detained for exercising her right to freedom of speech, and we urge the Kingdom to release her.
In a continued crackdown on women’s rights activists, writer and activist Nouf Abdulaziz and fellow activist Maya’a al-Zahrani, were arrested and detained in June 2018. Abdulaziz had written about women’s rights and publicly expressed solidarity with other female activists arrested in May of 2018, and al-Zahrani had supported her. Both women have been held incommunicado in detention.[vi] Two more women human rights defenders, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada, were subsequently detained in July 2018 for their peaceful activism.[vii] These women should not have been arbitrarily imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views and supporting human rights, and we call for their immediate release.
These women have been wrongly detained simply for exercising their fundamental rights, and justice demands they be released. Moreover, in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting the health and safety of all people is critical. Countries around the world have released prisoners, understanding that these pressing times require urgent humanitarian relief. We urge the leaders of the Kingdom to do the same and release Loujain al-Hathloul, Nouf Abdulaziz, Maya’a al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sada, and all other prisoners of conscience unjustly detained.
Thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.