Saudi authorities have long repressed activists and dissidents for peaceful activities. Since 2011, the courts have convicted nearly 30 prominent activists and dissidents. Many received sentences of 10 or 15 years largely under broad, catch-all charges designed to criminalize peaceful dissent. They include “breaking allegiance with the ruler,” “sowing discord,” “inciting public opinion,” “setting up an unlicensed organization,” and vague provisions from the 2007 cybercrime law.
Since 2014, Saudi authorities have tried nearly all peaceful dissidents in the Specialized Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism tribunal.
On February 26, Saudi Arabia came before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to defend the country’s record on women’s rights. While the committee welcomed the reforms, it also said the government accelerate efforts to repeal “legal provisions that require a male guardian’s authorization for women’s exercise of their rights,” and “refrain from any reprisals against women human rights defenders and their relatives” and “ensure that women activists are able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association.”
“It appears the only ‘crime’ these activists committed was wanting women to drive before Mohammad bin Salman did,” Whitson said. “If they are in jail because of their advocacy the authorities should release them immediately.”