RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has released two women activists detained nearly three years ago, rights groups said on Sunday, following a fierce crackdown on female campaigners. Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah were detained in the summer of 2018 with about a dozen other women activists on what rights groups called opaque charges related to national security.
"Prominent Saudi women human rights defenders Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah have been released following the expiry of the sentences against them," London-based rights group ALQST said on Twitter. Saudi authorities have not yet commented publicly on their release.
The two women "should never have been jailed in the first place and deserve justice (and) compensation for their arbitrary detention," Adam Coogle, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter. That view was echoed by Amnesty International, which called on Saudi King Salman to "remove the travel bans on Nassima and Samar, and all the released peaceful activists".
Several freed activists and their family members are barred from leaving Saudi Arabia, in a collective punishment that leaves them vulnerable to what campaigners call state coercion. In late December, a Saudi court handed prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul a prison term of five years and eight months for terrorism-related crimes, but a partially suspended sentence paved the way for her early release in February.
Hathloul was released on probation and is banned from leaving the kingdom for five years. The crackdown on women activists, which drew global condemnation, have cast a spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom, an absolute monarchy.
US President Joe Biden has vowed to press Saudi Arabia harder on human rights and earlier this year declassified an intelligence report into the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.