Blogger Nouf Abdulaziz was arrested in June 2018 as part of a broader crackdown on activists and journalists focusing on women’s rights. Abdulaziz previously saw her newspaper columns suspended after she wrote on sensitive issues. As of March 2020, she has appeared in court multiple times but CPJ has been unable to determine if she has been convicted of any crimes.
Abdulaziz was arrested on June 6, 2018, according to the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. IFHR reported that she was detained at her home in Riyadh in a police raid, but it was not clear which branch of the police or security services detained her. Both outlets reported that Abdulaziz was being held incommunicado in an unknown location. Hana Al-Khamri, a journalist who knows Abdulaziz, published a letter from Abdulaziz that the blogger wanted posted in the event of her arrest.
Abdulaziz wrote on her blog about women’s rights, Saudi detainees in Iraq, reform activists on trial, and politically motivated arrests in the kingdom, according to the blog, accessed via the Internet Wayback Machine. Yahya Assiri, director of the Saudi-focused human rights organization Al-Qst, told CPJ that Abdulaziz had previously written for the newspapers Al-Sharq and Noon, and also worked as a producer for the television program "Al-Majd." Assiri and Al-Khamri both told CPJ separately that Abdulaziz had been forced to stop writing her column because of pressure from authorities, but neither specified when this happened.
Abdulaziz’s arrest came in a broader wave of arrests aimed at activists who campaigned against the ban on women driving and pushed for gender equality in the kingdom. Beginning in May 2018, Saudi authorities detained prominent figures in the movement, even as Salman lifted the ban on June 24. In November 2018, Human Rights Watch and The Washington Post both reported that Saudi authorities tortured at least three of the detained women 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.
Abdulaziz was named as a defendant in trial proceedings on March 13, 2019, that included other high-profile activists and journalists such as Eman al-Nafjan and Hatoon al-Fassi, according to a series of Twitter posts that day by Al-Qst, which reported that Abdulaziz was accused of crimes under Saudi Arabia’s cybercrime laws, and that neither Abdulaziz nor any other the other women activists or journalists had access to a lawyer. Abdulaziz did not appear in court that day, according to the posts.
According to an April 2019 report by Reuters, authorities held three hearings between March and April 2019 but postponed a fourth. A separate Twitter thread by Al-Qst posted June 6, 2019, said that Abdulaziz is accused of communicating with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as well as violating cybercrime laws. Reuters reported that several of the women on trial were accused of “offering support to hostile elements abroad” and “harming Saudi interests,” quoting a public prosecutor in May 2018, but did not say whether formal charges had been filed at that point.
According to Al-Qst, Abdulaziz was convicted July 18, 2019, on charges related to posts on social media, but the organization did not provide any information about her sentencing. Her trial continued into 2020, with the organization reporting that Abdulaziz appeared in front of a criminal court on February 19 and March 4, 2020. According to Al-Qst’s website, Abdulaziz appeared before a criminal court in Riyadh on November 25, 2020. The journalist Nassima al-Sada 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 Abdulaziz was sentenced or received further charges.
According to the June 6, 2019 post on Twitter by Al-Qst, Abdulaziz’s health had deteriorated after she was allegedly tortured, including being beaten with a heavy cord. CPJ could not confirm the status of Abdulaziz’s health in prison as of September 2020.
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 Abdulaziz, 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.