Hatoon al-Fassi was arrested in late June 2018, according to reports by Reuters and AFP. The Paris-based international NGO International Federation for Human Rights reported that al-Fassi was arrested June 24, though other reports did not state the exact date of her arrest.
Al-Fassi, an associate professor of women’s history at Riyadh’s King Saud University, wrote a weekly column for the newspaper Al-Riyadh, and Tamara Cofman Wittes, a scholar with the U.S.-based think tank Brookings Institution, wrote that al-Fassi had written the column for 25 years and exhorted readers to push for reforms in Saudi Arabia that would protect the rights of women and children. According to the International Federation for Human rights and Reuters, al-Fassi was active in a local campaign against Saudi authorities’ ban on women driving, which was lifted on June 24. Her writing was critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” plan for modernizing the Saudi economy, and columns written shortly before her arrest criticized bureaucratic and logistical impediments to women driving in the kingdom and called for authorities to allow women to take posts in the Saudi judicial system, according to a CPJ review of her column.
Al-Fassi’s arrest also came as part of a broader wave of arrests aimed at activists who campaigned against the ban on women driving. Beginning in May 2018, Saudi authorities started detaining prominent figures in the movement, even as Crown Prince Mohammed lifted the ban on June 24, 2018. In November 2018, Human Rights Watch and The Washington Post both reported that Saudi authorities tortured at least three of the women detained in the wave of arrests with electric shocks and floggings, and that at least one of the women tried to commit suicide in detention. According to The Wall Street Journal, at least one of the women in Saudi custody was sexually assaulted.
CPJ was unable to determine where al-Fassi is being held, what–if any–charges are being leveled against her, or the state of her health. As of late 2018, CPJ had not received a response to an email sent to Al-Riyadh via the newspaper’s website. The Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to an email from CPJ seeking comment on her health, where she was being detained, or any charges against her.