SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: June 27, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):King Saud University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Saudi Arabia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 27, 2018, it was reported that Saudi authorities had detained Hatoon Al-Fassi, an Associate Professor of women’s history at King Saud University, in apparent retaliation for her women’s rights activism.

Beginning in May 2018, Saudi authorities began detaining women’s rights defenders and other activists for alleged suspicious contacts with “foreign entities” and for providing support to “foreign enemies.” Authorities have not, however, publicly disclosed the evidentiary bases of their detention. Some of those detained have been released temporarily, while those still in custody have reportedly been denied access to family and legal counsel. The crackdown appears to be related to the activists’ work promoting government reforms, including an effort to lift the ban on women’s right to drive.

Between June 22 and 24, Saudi authorities detained Professor Al-Fassi, who has been a prominent activist in the reform movement. Professor Al-Fassi had recently obtained her driver’s license and, before being detained, publicly announced her plans to celebrate the pending lifting of the ban. As of this report, public information regarding Professor Al-Fassi’s situation, including when she may be released or appear in court, is unavailable.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of a scholar in apparent retaliation for nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with these rights, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Detentions aimed at limiting such activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.