Nassima al-Sada is a columnist and human rights activist who writing pushed for political participation and an end to violence against women in addition to an end to Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving. Al-Sada’s detention in mid-2018 came a few months after the initial wave of arrests of female journalists and activists, and unlike these earlier cases she has yet to face charges or appear before a court.
Saudi authorities arrested al-Sada in late July or early August 2018, with the Saudi-focused human rights organization Al-Qst, in a report dated August 1, 2018, saying she was arrested in the preceding days and the Guardian reporting her arrest on August 2 without specifying the date. CPJ was unable to determine the exact date of her arrest.
Al-Sada’s arrest came as part of a crackdown beginning in May 2018 on activists and bloggers associated with the campaign against the ban on women driving, which Saudi authorities lifted 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.
Al-Sada wrote a column for the Saudi online newspaper Juhaina, where she focused on topics such as Saudi nationality laws, women’s political participation in the kingdom, and an analysis of the U.N. campaign to end violence against women, according to a CPJ review of her column.
According to Amnesty International and Al-Qst, al-Sada was well-known for her human rights activism, particularly against the ban on women driving. Al-Qst reported that al-Sada had also worked as a human rights instructor, while Amnesty reported that she tried to stand in municipal elections in 2015 but was banned from participating. The Guardian reported that she was a cofounder of the Saudi human rights organization al-Adalah.
As of late 2019, CPJ could not determine where al-Sada was being held or the state of her health. Al-Sada was not among the defendants in a trial for several women’s rights activists and female journalists that began in March 2019, The Washington Post reported March 30, 2019.
CPJ emailed the spokesman for the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C., October 3 requesting information about al-Sada and other journalists detained in Saudi Arabia, including on where they are being held, any charges against them, and their current health statuses. The spokesman told CPJ via email the same day that he was looking at the questions and would follow up if the embassy had comment.