Between Forced Deportation and Travel Ban: Political Opponents Are Struggling in Saudi Arabia

Saudi activist Alia Al-Hathloul described the misery endured by her family in painful terms; some of them are expelled from the Kingdom while others are imprisoned there, making it impossible for them to meet due to the repressive restrictions and unfair judicial rulings of the Saudi regime.

Alia al-Hathloul is the sister of Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi women’s rights activist who has been subjected to a travel ban following her release. The travel ban was supposed to be lifted on September 13, 2023. Loujain and her parents would then be able to fly abroad to meet with the rest of their family members, who live in exile for fear of the Saudi regime’s intimidation over their political activism.

However, the travel ban was not lifted as of September 13th. Alia expressed concern over her sister’s inability to leave Saudi Arabia despite her five-year travel ban coming to an end.

“Unfortunately, during the past few weeks, every government agency has sent us to another [as we] pursue the lifting of the travel ban despite the court’s clear decision and [the fact that this] does not require a complicated process,” she said on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

This was not the first time that Alia expressed concern over her family’s tragedy. She earlier wrote on the X platform two years ago: “For four years, I have not seen my mother and father due to the travel ban imposed on them without any legal justification.”

Walid Al-Hathloul, her brother, had previously written to his father to express how much he missed him after having been separated from him for years and being unable to return home due to the impending danger.

In Saudi Arabia, the plight of the Al-Hathloul family is not unique. The Al-Sadhan family also shares the same suffering. Areej Al-Sadhan, the sister of aid worker Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan, has frequently stated that she misses her brother, who has been held for five years after being arrested and forcibly disappeared.

The family of the political detainee, Salman Al-Awda, also shares the same tragedy, as some of his family members are banned from traveling and deprived of visiting him. Additionally, his son, Abdullah, who lives in exile, is deprived of seeing everyone, including his brothers and father, who has been imprisoned since his arrest during the September 2017 crackdown.

According to all intentional laws and norms, the forcible deportation of people from their homeland and arrest threats against relatives of political opponents are both manifest crimes. Instead, it ought to be considered a crime against humanity because it deprives a person of his most fundamental rights to life, freedom of movement, and safety.

These restrictions faced by Saudi opponents and their families at home and abroad are a clear violation of international covenants and conventions that guarantee the right to freedom of movement, as Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

We emphasize that the right of movement should be strictly provided, as Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “Freedom to leave the territory of a State may not be made dependent on any specific purpose or on the period of time the individual chooses to stay outside the country. Thus, traveling abroad is covered, as well as departure for permanent emigration.”

We also call on the relevant UN bodies and the Human Rights Council to intervene urgently and put pressure on the Saudi authorities to lift the travel ban on all political dissidents, activists, and their families.

In this regard, we call on the free people all over the world to tweet under the hashtag: #LetThemFly which was launched by human rights organisations to support the victims of the Saudi regime. We also call on everyone to unite their efforts in order to form a global public opinion that forces the Saudi authorities to lift all travel ban orders.

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