The Saudi government reportedly arrested a prominent human rights activist Tuesday who was awarded the “International Woman of Courage Award” in 2012 from Hillary Clinton, who was the U.S. secretary of state at the time.
Yahoo News described the move as the “latest sign of an intensifying crackdown on political dissidents.”
Citing a local activist, the human rights NGO Amnesty International reports, “Samar Badawi was arrested in the morning on January 12 in Jeddah and transferred along with her two-year-old daughter Joud to a police station.”
“After four hours of questioning, she was transferred to Dhaban prison and is due to appear before a prosecutor [Wednesday]. She is believed to have been arrested at least partly in connection with her alleged role in managing a Twitter account campaigning for the release of her former husband,” adds the report.
Badawi’s former husband was identified as human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair.
“Samar Badawi’s arrest today is yet another alarming setback for human rights in Saudi Arabia and demonstrates the extreme lengths to which the authorities are prepared to go in their relentless campaign to harass and intimidate human rights defenders into silent submission,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
“Just weeks after Saudi Arabia shocked the world by executing 47 people in a single day, including the Shi’a Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, it has once again demonstrated its utter disregard for human rights. Samar Badawi has been arrested purely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression, she must be immediately and unconditionally released,” added Luther.
Badawi’s arrest drew the ire from a senior State Department official who noted that the female activist appeared to have been detained for exercising her “freedom of expression.”
“We’re very concerned about this,” Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for human rights, told Yahoo News. “We would urge the Saudi authorities to release her and drop any charges.”
Yahoo News notes that a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.
“The case presents yet another potential dilemma for the Obama administration, which has tried to walk a fine line between speaking out against perceived human rights abuses by the Saudis and not alienating one of the closest U.S. allies in the Middle East,” points out Yahoo News.
“It could also create awkward questions for Clinton, whose former assistant secretary of legislative affairs, David Adams, recently was hired to lobby for the Saudi government in his new role as a principal of the Podesta Group [a major D.C. lobbying group headed by Clinton campaign fundraiser Tony Podesta],” it continues.
Yahoo News further notes that the Clinton campaign, Adams, and Podesta all declined to respond to a request for comment.
In March 2012, the State Department reportedly hailed Badawi as a “powerful voice” for women’s issues in Saudi Arabia when Clinton conferred the Woman of Courage award on Badawi.
The State Department cited “her efforts on behalf of women’s suffrage and challenging the country’s guardianship system, which prevents women from working and traveling without a male guardian’s permission,” notes Yahoo News,
“As part of receiving the award, Badawi came to the U.S. and met with Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama,” it adds. “On Tuesday, U.S.-based Saudi human rights activist Ali al-Ahmed posted a picture of the trio on Twitter and asked, ‘Will you call for her freedom?’”
The Saudi Ministry of Interior issued a travel ban on Samar Badawi in December 2014 to prohibit her from making a trip to Brussels for a human rights event, according to Amnesty International.
“Samar Badawi’s former husband, Waleed Abu al-Khair, is serving a 15-year prison sentence also in connection with his work protecting and defending human rights in Saudi Arabia,” notes the human rights NGO. “Hundreds of thousands of Amnesty International’s supporters campaigned for his release during its December 2015 Write for Rights Campaign.”
“Her brother [blogger] Raif [Badawi] was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website for public debate,” it adds. “He received the first 50 lashes just over a year ago. They are both prisoners of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released.”