Leahy Floor Statement On Arrests Of Women Activists In Saudi Arabia

Mr. President, an unrelenting government crackdown on the women’s rights movement is taking place in Saudi Arabia.  This is the subject of a Senate Resolution, of which I am an original cosponsor, introduced today by Senator Merkley. 

It is widely known that Saudi Arabia has a long history of subjugating and discriminating against women and girls.  Today, despite talk of reform, Saudi authorities continue to arbitrarily arrest and detail women’s rights activists and supporters, including Samar Badawi, recipient of the 2012 International Women of Courage Award; Nassima al-Sadah, an Eastern Province activist, and Nouf Abdelaziz, an activist and writer, among others.

The latest crackdown, which began in May, has resulted in the arrest of more than a dozen women’s rights activists, with many more also barred from traveling abroad.

Many people erroneously equate the recent lifting of the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia as indicative of increased government support for women’s rights in the country.  To the contrary, the government has arrested some of the same women activists who campaigned for the right to drive only a short time ago.

We and others often deplore the arbitrary arrests, denial of fundamental rights and liberties, and execution of prisoners in Iran for “crimes” that would be protected speech under international law.  Yet, we see similar abuses in Saudi Arabia, and the systematic persecution of women by Saudi authorities, without a commensurate level of international outcry.

Arbitrary arrests of peaceful activists, regardless of cause or country, is not acceptable.  Freedom of speech and peaceful dissent are critical underpinnings of human rights activism around the globe and must be consistently defended.  Women’s rights are human rights.   

I urge all Senators to stand up against attacks of fundamental rights and liberties, in all countries and for all people, including those fighting for the rights of women in Saudi Arabia.

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