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Amnesty urges release of jailed Saudi female activists ahead of Riyadh's W20 'propaganda exercise' Open in fullscreen

The New Arab Staff

Amnesty urges release of jailed Saudi female activists ahead of Riyadh's W20 'propaganda exercise'

Saudi Arabia has held Loujain al-Hathloul in detention since May 2018 [Screengrab]

Date of publication: 16 October, 2020

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Amnesty International is calling on Saudi Arabia to release female activists from jail ahead of a summit critics are calling hypocritical.


Saudi Arabia's hosting of this year’s Women20 Summit, a G20 engagement group, has been slammed as "propaganda" to divert attention from the kingdom’s human rights record and incarceration of female activists.

On 20-22nd October, Saudi Arabia "will bring together experts, representatives, and leaders from a variety of disciplines to share, innovate, accelerate and inspire dynamic solutions to advancing women towards a more equitable future," according to the W20 website.

However, Saudi Arabia has arrested several women’s rights activists and continues to keep them in detention despite calls for their release.

"We are writing this open letter to raise Amnesty International’s serious concerns relating to the ongoing detention of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, and to urge all W20 participants to take action in support of these brave women ahead of and during the Summit," Amnesty wrote earlier this week.

“For the past few years, the government of Saudi Arabia has been trying to improve its image, investing millions of dollars in a public relations campaign to encourage foreign states and businesses to invest in the country, as part of its flagship 2030 economic vision.

"During this period, the Saudi Arabian government initiated several reforms regarding women’s rights, such as allowing women the right to obtain a passport that should make it possible for them to travel without the permission of a male guardian."

One of the detainees is Loujain al-Hathloul, a Nobel prize-nominated activist who has allegedly been tortured in prison. She was arrested after she successfully campaigned to win Saudi women the right to drive.

Human rights organisations claimed Loujain was abused in prison, including being subjected to electric shocks, flogging, and sexual harassment.

She along with ten other women’s rights activists were arrested in May 2018 and remain in jail.

Boycott W20?

One speaker who had been contacted to attend the summit had declined to do so on the basis of the country’s abysmal human rights record.

"I was invited by #Women20 #W20 #SaudiArabia (an official #G20 engagement group) to moderate its summit in October," Lebanese journalist Zahra Hankir wrote on Twitter last month.

"I have declined as I stand in solidarity with women's rights defenders in Saudi Arabia & beyond, including #LoujainAlhathloul, who remains in prison in the country."

Lin al-Hathloul, sister of incarcerated Loujain called the summit "propaganda".

"Why is @UNDP @UNDPSaudiArabia promoting a propaganda exercise by the Saudi State?" she tweeted.

"Loujain al-Hathloul sits in prison for demanding women's rights while Saudi Arabia hosts a women's issues event?"

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