Saudi Arabia mulls releasing women activists ahead of G20

Saudi Arabia mulls releasing women activists ahead of G20
Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry is reportedly considering the release of a number of detained activists.
2 min read
10 November, 2020
Loujain al-Hathloul's sister has dismissed the Saudi ambassador's remarks [Screenshot]

Saudi Arabia could release several female activists jailed in the kingdom ahead of its hosting of the G20 summit this month, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UK has indicated.

Riyadh has faced increasing pressure over its human rights record in the run up to the international summit, which will commence on 21 November. 

Saudi Arabia has touted this year's event as one focussing on female empowerment.

"The G20, does it offer an opportunity for clemency? Possibly. That is a judgment for someone other than me," Saudi ambassador Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud told The Guardian, referring to several female activists who were jailed after urging reform on a number of women's rights issues, including the right to drive. 

The prince added that Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry is weighing up the cost of the activists' continued dentention.

"People ask: is it worth the damage it is causing you, whatever they did? That is a fair argument to make and it is a discussion we have back at home within our political system and within our ministry," the ambassador added.

"There is a variety of views. Some people say it doesn't matter what other people think of us, what is important is to do what is right for our country, and if people knowingly break our laws they should be punished according to those laws. Other people say it isn't worth it, let them out, let them live their lives and ignore them."

Among those detained are Loujain Al-Hathloul, Nassima Al-Sada, Samar Badawi, Mayaa al-Zahrani, and Nouf Abdulaziz, all of whom had pushed for increased women's rights including an end to male guardianship laws and the right to drive.

Loujain Al-Hathloul, 31, has been on hunger strike since 26 October and her health is said to be deteriorating.

A UN women's rights committee expressed alarm last week at her condition.

Hathloul's sister, Lina al-Hathloul, said the ambassador's  comments were a "PR exercise".

"Amb. Khalid bin Bandar's remarks to the British Guardian newspaper confirm that his government is more concerned with its international reputation and foreign investment than with the rule of law, justice and human rights, let alone 'women’s empowerment'," she wrote on Twitter.

"Why float the possibility in the Western media, when if the #Saudi authorities wanted to release the women they could do so at any time, and reap the political benefit? It looks like a purely PR exercise."

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