Yasmine Al-Ghafili: Four years of oppression

Today marks three years since Saudi activist Yasmine Al-Ghufaili was arrested in the May 2021 crackdown campaign which was launched against several male and female activists who were fighting for equality and women’s rights, as well as demanding additional rights that would ensure women’s empowerment in society.

Yasmine did not break any laws or commit any crimes that would have made her an arrest target, but the authorities had good reason to take away her freedom and mistreat her without following any international agreements or legal requirements because of her tweets advocating for women’s rights and criticizing some of the Saudi regime’s policies in this area.

Yasmine Al-Ghufaili was taken into custody on May 17, 2021; since then, she has been subjected to enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention because the authorities will not say why she was taken into custody or tell her family about the terms of her confinement on a regular basis. She only appeared once in April 2022 in a TV report at the state-run Al-Ekhbariya channel, promoting the image of the Saudi regime, and praising its policies.

The aforementioned events took place in June 2022, when Saudi official and private media outlets celebrated the prisoner festival known as “Time Management Software Suites.” This festival aimed to promote the regime’s efforts to improve its image and soften the harsh detention conditions in Saudi prisons.

No one can deny that Al-Ghufaili was not a ordinary inmate. Rather, her political views, her criticism of the regime in tweets, and her support of detainees made her an activist. She operated under a pseudonym until a Twitter hack exposed her true identity, which came to light after some of its staff members were hired by the Saudi government.

It is our stance that false detention cannot be justified in the first place, regardless of how opulent the conditions and circumstances of detention may be. Since many of the female inmates at Tarfiya Prison had committed no crimes, it was improper for the government to have detained them from the start. Their attempt to demand fundamental freedoms and rights—which is a legitimate concern under international laws and treaties—is entirely their own fault.

We emphasize, though, that neither the reports carried by state-affiliated channels nor the media in general—which the regime has long used to malign opponents and slant their image—can be trusted as proof that conditions in detention are ideal. In addition, the media is a targeted outlet that exclusively presents the government’s perspective.

We also emphasize that international agencies must step in to look into the situation and determine the true motivations behind the appearance of an activist such as Al-Ghufaili in a video that promotes the regime, which is attempting in a number of ways to sanitize its negative human rights record and paint it in a more positive light. We also call for immediate action to apply pressure to the relevant authorities to release prisoners of conscience.

In order to truly improve the situation, the regime should punish those who have violated the rights of citizens and detainees, free political opponents and prisoners of conscience, and support political activists’ initiatives to strengthen the foundations of democracy in government.

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