Hatoon Al-Fassi, Saudi Arabia

Posted April 21, 2019

Dr. Hatoon Al-Fassi is a renowned scholar and human rights defender facing trial in Saudi Arabia. Dr. Al-Fassi is an associate professor of women’s history at King Saud University and is a prominent activist in the reform movement, having organized campaigns for women’s suffrage and most recently working to lift the ban on female drivers. Saudi authorities detained Dr. Al-Fassi and several women’s rights activists in June 2018 after lifting the ban. Read more.

Case Information

Authorities detained Dr. Al-Fassi between June 21 and 24, 2018, in apparent retaliation for her women’s rights activism, including her leadership in the movement to lift the ban on women driving. At the time she was taken into custody, Dr. Al-Fassi was reportedly under a travel ban. As of this alert, the circumstances surrounding her arrest remain unclear.

Dr. Al-Fassi’s detention comes against the backdrop of a series of state efforts, starting in May 2018, to detain women’s rights activists. Authorities have accused the activists of having suspicious contacts with, and providing support to, “foreign entities;” however, they have not publicly disclosed the evidentiary bases for these accusations. Some of those detained have been released temporarily, while those still in custody have reportedly been denied access to family and legal counsel. These actions appear to uniformly target activists like Dr. Al-Fassi, who have worked for political reform, including lifting the driving ban.

Since November 2018, SAR has received alarming reports from Amnesty International and other human rights organizations that the detained women’s rights activists have been subjected to torture by electrocution and flogging, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. In February 2019, the Detention Review Panel, an independent group of British Parliamentarians and lawyers founded in 2018, published a report describing the treatment of the detained activists as “cruel, inhumane, and degrading.” In March 2019, leaked medical reports of at least 60 political prisoners, including women activists, indicate that they have been severely mistreated and subjected to torture.

On March 13, 2019, Dr. Al-Fassi and nine other women’s rights activists appeared in the criminal court in a closed-door trial for the first time since their arrest. Saudi Arabia has not made the charges public; however, reports indicate Dr. Al-Fassi and the other women activists are being tried on charges for allegedly communicating with international organizations and foreign media and promoting women’s rights. On March 27, following the second hearing, the court released three of the activists. On April 3, the remaining activists, including Dr. Al-Fassi appeared in court and were apparently denied bail.

On May 2, Dr. Al-Fassi and three other women’s rights activists were temporarily released.

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