Three Saudi women’s rights activists, Rokaya Mohareb, Aziza al-Youssef, and Eman al-Nafjan, have been granted a reprieve before facing trial. However, it is not certain when they will need to return.
The women were arrested last spring after campaigning to expand freedoms for Saudi women. Saudi officials accused the women of acting as foreign agents and, in turn, threatening the security of Saudi Arabia. The women were branded as traitors and were charged with illegitimately contacting foreign journalists and diplomats.
Human rights groups around the world quickly rallied behind the women and dozens of countries have called for their release, including a panel of British members of parliament and nine U.S. senators.
Rothna Begum, a Human Rights Watch researcher, isn’t quite sure what will happen in the coming months, but she is hopeful. “While they’ve been released, their sham trial is still going. We really don’t know what the authorities are going to do next. But we hope that the ordeal will be over soon,” she said.
The Saudi government is known for its horrible human rights record, especially regarding women. From outdated guardianship laws, trapping women in the country, to jailing people for speaking against the government, Saudi Arabia ranks low amongst countries with strong human rights campaigns.
While the country did recently appointed their first female ambassador, it is not enough of a forward step in helping women who are suffering under their regime. For years, officials have arrested women’s rights activists with no word on when they would be released. When these women are released, they are often in poor health.
The released women reported experiencing torture, sexual harassment, and other psychological and physical abuse by their captors. Some even reported their captors using drugs, such as hashish, during the “interrogations.” Unsurprisingly, Saudi officials have denied any mistreatment of the women.
The women’s arrests came just before the much-anticipated lift on the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia. They also advocated for rights for victims of domestic violence and a dissolution of the guardianship system.
During this time, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was focused on crushing any dissent by way of kidnapping, torturing, and oftentimes killing critics and potential rivals. Despite the Crown Prince’s plans to expand women’s rights by the year 2020, making Saudi Arabia a more gender-equal country, efforts to effect real change has been virtually nonexistent. Instead, he has been arresting women activists to appease the conservative half of the country that is concerned about these new freedoms of women destroying the tradition and culture they’ve been used to for years.
With the current leadership, it is clear that any change in the country (at the present time) can only truly come from above. Other countries will continue to voice objections and women’s rights activists will continue to push for more rights, but unless the leader of Saudi Arabia agrees to all the terms and conditions, true change faces incredible obstacles.
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