Travel Bans a Means of Silencing Saudi Human Rights Defenders
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of the Interior imposed a ten-year travel ban on human rights defender Sheikh Mikhlif Al-Shammari on April 8, following his release from prison in February 2012. Al-Shammari, who has been an advocate for reform and democratic change in Saudi Arabia, was detained for 20 months for writing content deemed “disturbing to others.” It is unacceptable that Saudi Arabia continues to use travel bans as a means of silencing human rights defenders and dissenters. Freedom House calls on the government to immediately lift any travel restrictions against Al-Shammari and other activists. The travel ban on Al-Shammari also directly affects his daughter, who will be unable to travel back to the United States to finish her studies. His daughter, by law, has to be accompanied by her father in order to leave the country.
In recent weeks, the government imposed travel bans on human rights defenders to stifle their advocacy efforts. On March 21, human rights lawyer Waleed Abu Alkhair and founder of the group Human Rights Monitor was banned from leaving the country for “security reasons” two days before he was scheduled to attend the Democracy Fellows Program at Syracuse University in the United States. Alkhair has regularly written letters and legal briefs challenging King Abdullah, calling for the release of political prisoners, and advocating for women’s rights. He said he would fight the ten-year travel ban. On February 21, human rights defender Mohammed Albajady, co-founder of the Saudi Civil & Political Rights Association, began a hunger strike to demand his release after arrested, held incommunicado and mistreated.
Saudi Arabia is rated Not Free in Freedom House’s primary surveys: Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom of the Press 2011, and Freedom on the Net 2011. Saudi Arabia was the lowest ranking country in Freedom House’s assessment of women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa, and women are still relegated to second-class—not allowed to travel, get medical operations, marry, work or drive without permission from a male guardian.