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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A file picture of Saudi activist Samar Badawi. (REUTERS)
RIYADH – Saudi Arabia has released two women activists detained nearly three years ago, rights groups said on Sunday.
Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah were detained in the summer of 2018 with about a dozen other women activists on charges related to national security.
“Prominent Saudi women human rights defenders Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah have been released following the expiry of the sentences against them,” London-based rights group ALQST said on Twitter.
The two women had been vocal critics of Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship laws, which gave husbands, fathers and in some cases a woman’s own son control over her ability to obtain a passport and travel. They had also advocated the right of women to drive. Both restrictions have since been lifted.
Saudi authorities have not yet commented publicly on the two activists’ release.
Badawi is a well-known human rights activist based in Jeddah who first came to prominence when she petitioned Saudi courts to remove her father as her legal guardian on grounds he was barring her from marrying potential suitors. Years later, she spoke out in defence of her brother Raif Badawi, who is serving ten years in prison over internet posts critical of the ultra-conservative religious establishment. He was publicly flogged in 2015 under King Abdullah. The mother of two was later married for a time to Waleed Abul-Khair, a human rights lawyer currently serving 15 years imprisonment.
Sadah is a prominent women’s rights activist from the Eastern Province, an area heavily populated by the kingdom’s minority Shia Muslims. She was also outspoken in defence of greater rights for Shias. Amnesty International said she had been held in solitary confinement for a year and was not allowed to see her children or her lawyer for months at a time.
The two women “should never have been jailed in the first place and deserve justice (and) compensation for their arbitrary detention,” Adam Coogle, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.
That view was echoed by Amnesty International, which called on Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz to “remove the travel bans on Nassima and Samar and all the released peaceful activists.”
Several freed activists and their family members are barred from leaving Saudi Arabia, in a collective punishment that leaves them vulnerable to what campaigners call state coercion.
In late December, a Saudi court handed prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul a prison term of five years and eight months for terrorism-related crimes, but a partially suspended sentence paved the way for her early release in February.
Hathloul was released on probation and is banned from leaving the kingdom for five years.
The crackdown on women activists has cast a spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom.
US President Joe Biden has vowed to press Saudi Arabia harder on human rights and earlier this year declassified an intelligence report into the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
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