Recent unravelling of Loujain al-Hathloul’s case has led various international human rights organisations to draw global attention towards how Saudi travel bans are hidden means to silence dissent. Loujain is just one among many rights activists who are being punished by Saudi government merely for raising their voice for a just cause.
An ardent advocate of women’s rights, Loujain was arrested for supporting women’s right to drive before Saudi Arabia lifted the ban in 2018. Although freed from prison now, she and her family are still ‘jailed’ in the country as authorities have imposed a five-year international travel ban on them.
On May 9, 2021, Loujain was ordered to report to the office of the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Investigation. As revealed by sister Lina al-Hathloul, Loujain was called for some documentation that stated the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold judgement of an appeals court. Her family questioned why was this information passed on by a security agency. Yet, the government has not reconsidered her travel ban.
Several human rights defenders claim that Saudi travel bans are the government’s veil to hold innocent people as hostages. Records state that authorities don’t shy from torturing both women & men. Besides restricting movement, the regime forces prisoners to sign declarations that withdraw their right to post anything on social media platforms. It has brutally cracked down on activists who fought against the driving ban on women before 2018.
Although some like Loujain were released from prison, others like Nassima al-Sadah remain in detention for fiercely fighting against the country’s male guardianship system and women’s right to drive. Nassima was charged under Article 6 of the Anti-Cybercrime Law for sharing her articles on social websites.
Another voice that Saudi travel bans are trying to mull is that of Red Crescent local aid worker Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan. Punished with a 20-year prison sentence, Al-Sadhan is also tied to another 20-years of travel ban for running an anonymous social media account. The very fact that people need to create anonymous accounts to raise their voice for a just cause explains the dominant nature of government and fear of Saudi travel bans.
In April 2021, many Saudi activists, including Mohammed al-Rabiah, were sentenced to six years in prison. As per a human rights organisation — ALQST, al-Rabiah’s detention was quite torturous. He was not only hung upside down, but also beaten to unconsciousness.
While human welfare organisations and rights groups continue to raise their voice on Saudi rights violations, it is equally important for travellers to be aware of what to expect when they visit a country like Saudi!