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Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Briefing

Women’s Human Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia

Thursday, May 23, 2019
10:00 – 11:00 AM
2200 Rayburn House Office Building


Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a briefing
on the plight of women’s human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.

On May 15, 2018, as the Saudi government prepared to lift its long-standing ban on women drivers, authorities began arresting prominent women’s rights defenders. State-linked media labeled the women as traitors, and several were reportedly tortured in detention.

The detention of women and some men known for challenging Saudi Arabia’s pervasive controls on all aspects of women’s lives sparked an international outcry. Parliamentarians, the press and human rights organizations the world over have sought to highlight
the arbitrary detentions and the egregious treatment of the activists. The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission included the cases of several of the women in the
Defending Freedoms prisoners of conscience project, alongside blogger Raif Badawi and human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair. Most recently, PEN America conferred the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award on three of the women: journalist, blogger and
activist Nouf Abdulaziz, activist and social media commentator Loujain Al-Hathloul, and blogger, columnist and activist Eman Al-Nafjan.

This briefing brings together a Saudi journalist, an exiled physician and representatives of human rights organizations to discuss the situation of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia and suggest ways Congress can leverage the U.S.-Saudi relationship
to defend rights and ease repression. Members of Congress who advocate for Saudi prisoners of conscience will also speak.

Congressional Advocates

  • Rep. James P. McGovern, Co-Chair, TLHRC, and Advocate for Raif Badawi
  • Rep. Ro Khanna, Member, TLHRC, and Advocate for Waleed Abu al-Khair

Panel I          

  • Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch
  • Safa al-Ahmed, Saudi journalist and documentary filmmaker
  • Omaima Al-Najjar, Saudi physician and blogger exiled in Italy
  • Seth Binder, Advocacy Officer, POMED

Additional panelists may be added.


  • Thomas O. Melia, Washington Director, PEN America

This briefing will be open to Members of Congress, congressional staff, the interested public, and the media. For any questions, please contact Kimberly Stanton at 202-225-3599 or (for Co-Chair McGovern) or Piero Tozzi at 202-225-3765 or (for Co-Chair Smith). 




James P. McGovern                                                    Christopher H. Smith
Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress
Co-Chair, TLHRC                                                        Co-Chair, TLHRC


Related Legislative Issues

Selected legislative information: Civil Rights, Foreign Affairs

Related Event Information

Event Title: Women’s Human Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia
Event Location: 2200 Rayburn House Office Building
Event Start: 5/23/2019 10:00:00 AM
Event End: 5/23/2019 11:00:00 AM

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