Saudi Arabian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release women’s rights activist and academic Salma al-Shehab — and all other prisoners locked up for free expression — and put an end to their oppressive regime of human rights abuses. Big Tech must play its part by ensuring human rights are at the core of any business dealings in the kingdom.
In a joint statement, Access Now and civil society organizations from across the globe strongly condemn the arbitrary arrest and unlawful sentencing of Salma al-Shehab — “the longest known prison sentence handed down against a peaceful activist for their free speech in Saudi Arabia, signalling an alarming deterioration of the human rights situation in the country.”
“A woman born into a totalitarian landscape dared to speak out — via Twitter. Now Saudi authorities plan on snatching the rest of her life away. Civil society says, unequivocally, no to this,” said Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy and Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “We demand the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman immediately release Salma al-Shehab, and put an end to persecuting all activists.”
Salma Al-Shehab, a Saudi-born UK PhD student was arrested on 15 January, 2021, while on holiday in the kingdom. Charged under the country’s draconian Counter-Terrorism and Anti-Cyber Crime laws, essentially criminalizing freedom of expression online, the activist was handed down an excruciating 34-year prison sentence, followed by a 34-year travel ban where she must remain under the regime that persecutes her. Unless overturned, Salma Al-Shehab’s life is over.
To achieve genuine change, insistence must come from all sides — governments, civil society, and Big Tech looking to invest in the economy of oppressive regimes — to help establish a new Saudi human rights agenda. Namely, tech companies must address the gendered human rights implications of their decisions head-on by conducting extensive due diligence before investing in certain countries, pushing back against censorship and repression, and ensuring people who use their services across the globe enjoy the same human rights protections. This is ever more important, as companies and investors flock to Saudi Arabia to attend the Global AI Summit in Riyadh next month.
“While companies like Google spout gender-inclusive rhetoric on home soil, they are more than willing to actively boost the economy of countries like Saudi Arabia, directly contributing to the prolonged discrimination and oppression of women,” said Isedua Oribhabor, Business and Human Rights Lead at Access Now. “Tech giants know exactly what they’re getting into when they do business with repressive regimes. If they can’t, they must commit to affording their users in Saudi Arabia the same protections as their users on home turf, otherwise they have no business doing business there.”
Only sustained international pressure on Saudi authorities will achieve meaningful progress toward the full respect of human rights and freedoms in the country. Access Now calls on global leaders and tech industry giants to commit to the welfare, rights, and potential of women and activists in Saudi Arabia.
Read the joint statement.