Tuesday 24 November 2020 
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UN human rights expert calls on Saudi Arabia to free women activists

A United Nations special rapporteur has called on the member states of the UN Human Rights Council to pressure Saudi Arabia to free women activists, four months before the Saudi regime is to hold the 2020 G20 Riyadh summit.

Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, made the call during a speech to the council in Geneva on Thursday.

The Saudi regime should release “prisoners of conscience, women, human rights defenders that are currently in prison for demanding the right to drive,” she said.

Saudi authorities put at least a dozen prominent women’s activists behind bars in 2018 as the regime lifted a ban on women driving cars, a step that most of the detainees had long campaigned for.   

These activists were arrested as part of a broader plan of crackdown on dissent that extended to even clerics and intellectuals.

According to reports, several of the arrested women have already said that they had gone through torture and been the victim of sexual assault in detention.

Saudi officials, however, reject the allegations, claiming that the detainees were suspected of having damaged Saudi interests and allegedly offered support to what they described as hostile elements abroad.

A number of these women are now on trial, but little is known about the charges against them. Some of these female activists have been detained on charges of making contacts with foreign journalists, diplomats and human rights groups.

Particularly after the gruesome killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, the prosecution of these women has drawn global criticism.

Elsewhere in his remarks on Thursday, Callamard who currently leads a UN investigation into Khashoggi’s killing, said that “far more needs to be done” internationally regarding accountability for his death.

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