Nassima al-Sada is a columnist and human rights activist whose 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.
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. The Guardian reported on her arrest on August 2, though did not specify the date that she was taken into custody. 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 andThe 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.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported that al-Sada was summoned before a Riyadh Criminal Court and charged on June 27, 2019, under the cybercrimes law, while Al-Qst reported that the next month, July 18, 2019, she was convicted of “communicating with foreign entities hostile to the state” on charges related to social media posts. Al-Qst reported that al-Sada, the journalist Nouf Abdulaziz, and another female activist, were called in for a secret hearing at a criminal court on February 19, 2020. The organization said international observers were forbidden from attending, and CPJ could not confirm that the session took place or the outcome. According to Al-Qst’s website, al-Sada appeared before a criminal court in Riyadh on November 25, 2020. Abdulaziz and two other women appeared before courts the same day in separate sessions. Al-Qst did not indicate what the nature of the court sessions were, including whether al-Sada was charged or sentenced.
According to Al Qst, al-Sada was imprisoned in 2018 and 2019 in Dammam Public Security Prison and was later transferred to Al-Hair prison in Riyadh; as of September 2020 she was still there.
The Saudi-focused human rights organization European Saudi Organization for Human Rights reported in June 2019 that al-Sada had been held in solitary confinement for eight months. CPJ was not able to determine the state of al-Sada’s health in prison.
In October 2020, CPJ emailed the spokesperson and the media office for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. for comment about journalists held in Saudi prisons, including al-Sada, but received automated messages that the emails were not delivered. The same month, CPJ also sent a request for comment to an email listed on the website of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Royal Court, but received a message saying the address did not exist. CPJ also emailed the Saudi Ministry of Media and sent a message through the website of the Saudi Center for International Communication, but neither request was returned.