Saudis Release Award-Winning Female Human Rights Advocate

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The government of Saudi Arabia has reportedly released Samar Badawi, a prominent human rights activist who received the “International Woman of Courage Award” in 2012 from then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Badawi was released Jan 13, a day after she was reportedly arrested, according to CNN, which quoted Gen. Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, as denying that the activist was ever detained.

The spokesman refuted a report by human rights NGO Amnesty International saying, “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 [Jan. 13],” adds the human rights organization. “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,” identified as human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair.

“Gen. Mansour al-Turki, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said that Badawi was not arrested, contrary to the claims of multiple human rights activists,” reports CNN.

Instead, the general reportedly said, “She was subject to a questioning session by the district police upon the request of the bureau of investigation and public prosecution.”

Badawi returned home, reportedly revealed Ali Adubisi, director of the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights.

“According to what I know up to this moment, there are no subsequent steps relating to an investigation or a trial,” CNN quoted Adubisi as saying.

Badawi’s release comes as tensions intensify between the two regional rivals, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite powerhouse Iran, stemming from Riyadh’s execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

“Just weeks after Saudi Arabia shocked the world by executing 47 people in a single day, including the [Shiite] Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, it has once again demonstrated its utter disregard for human rights,” reports Amnesty International.

“Badawi’s case appeared to be connected to her role in lobbying for the release of her brother, Raif, and her former spouse, Waleed Abu al-Khair,” notes CNN. “Their imprisonments have drawn the ire of human rights and free speech advocates.”

Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, and Tom Malinowski, U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights, said Badawi was arrested for exercising her right to “freedom of expression,” according to Yahoo News.

Despite the Saudi Interior Ministry denying that she was detained, Adubisi reportedly said the “Woman of Courage” award recipient was arrested on multiple charges, including “turning the public opinion against the state” and managing Raif Badawi’s Twitter account.

Raif is Samar Badawi’s brother and his wife, Ensaf Haidar, is the president of a foundation lobbying for his release.

“Her brother Raif was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website for public debate,” notes Amnesty International. “He received the first 50 lashes just over a year ago. They are both prisoners of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Raif was convicted of breaking Saudi Arabia’s information technology law and insulting Islam on his blog, “Saudi Arabian Liberals,” reports CNN.

Echoing Amnesty International, Haidar said Raif’s sister was charged with running al-Khair’s, her former husband, Twitter account.

“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,” reports Amnesty International.

During Amnesty International’s December 2015 Write for Rights Campaign, thousands of the NGO’s supporters lobbied for al-Khair’s release.

The State Department reportedly hailed Badawi as a “powerful voice” for women’s issues in Saudi Arabia when Clinton conferred the “International Woman of Courage Award” on Badawi in March 2012.

Badawi’s “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” were cited by the State Department, reports 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?’”

CNN points out that “in 2010, Badawi served seven months in jail for disobeying her father, who she said physically abused her from the age of 14 after her mother died of cancer.”


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