In a new resolution on Saudi Arabia adopted by the European Parliament, MEPs highlighted not only the issue of the death penalty but also, travel bans on women’s rights defenders, cyber surveillance, and the widespread use of torture in Saudi prisons.
The text was adopted on 8 July 2021 after a lengthy debate at the EP Plenary, where MEP Miguel Urban Crespo highlighted that Saudi Arabia violates the rights of activists, women and civil society every day whilst the EU sits in silence due to strategic economic relations with the country. MEP Marc Tarabella gave an example of women’s rights defenders who have been released, such as Loujain Al Hathloul, but who continue to face restrictions such as travel bans. He stated that this is allowed to happen because there has never been accountability for previous crimes committed.
The resolution therefore calls for greater accountability against impunity in Saudi Arabia, starting with EU sanctions against Saudi officials.
The issues of women’s rights defenders were highlighted in the European Parliament earlier this year in a joint letter submitted to HR/VP Josep Borrell, sponsored by MEPs Helmut Scholz and Alessandra Moretti and signed by almost 50 MEPs. The letter outlined cases of women’s rights activists who were rounded up, arrested, tortured, and portrayed in the official media as traitors and spies.
Human Rights Watch recently published leaks from an anonymous Saudi prison guard who, through harrowing accounts, confirmed the allegations of torture against women’s rights defenders whilst they were imprisoned. There remains no accountability for the perpetrators of these violations against peaceful activists.
Although the release of women’s rights defenders allows for the Saudi authorities to portray a reformist image, these activists continue to face immense restrictions on their freedom of movement and freedom of expression.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) therefore welcomes the resolution on Saudi Arabia and the continued work of MEPs to push for the issue of women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia to the forefront of human rights dialogues.