One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent female human rights campaigners has been arrested and jailed for allegedly running a Twitter account.
Samar Badawi is the ex-wife of influential human rights lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, and according to activists has been accused of running his Twitter account after he was jailed in 2014.
One of the most well-known campaigners for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, Ms Badawi received the 2012 International Women of Courage award, presented by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.
She is also the sister of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and a 10-year prison term for insulting the religious establishment.
Raif’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, wrote on Twitter that Samar was being taken to the same detention facility as her brother, along with her two-year-old daughter.
“Samar Badawi’s arrest is yet another alarming setback for human rights in Saudi Arabia,” said Amnesty Internation’s Philip Luther.
“It demonstrates the extreme lengths to which the authorities are prepared to go in their relentless campaign to harass and intimidate human rights defenders into silent submission,” he said.
Amnesty quoted local activists who said Ms Badawi was arrested in Jeddah on Tuesday and was expected to appear before a prosecutor later on Wednesday.
It is not her first run-in with the Saudi authorities. In 2010, she served seven months in jail “for disobeying her father”, who abused her from the age of 14.
In December 2014, she was issued with a travel ban by the interior ministry to prevent her travelling to Brussels for a human rights conference.
Her arrest comes after tweets continued to appear on the Twitter account of her former husband, despite him being in jail. The profile information for @WaleedAbulkhair, the former head of the organisation Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA), says “his friends are operating his account on his behalf”.
Last week, a “leaked” image was posted on the account apparently taken of Abdulkhair while in prison. A message later said it was taken “two years ago in the first month of his detention”.
The Center for Inquiry, a US-based humanist organisation which said it had worked closely with Ms Badawi in the past, called on Saudi Arabia to release her and drop any charges. It urged Ms Clinton and Ms Obama to rally round her cause now.
“I have worked personally with Samar, and she is one of the most impressive, courageous, and devoted activists I have ever met,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s main representative to the UN.
“When Secretary Clinton presented Samar with the Women of Courage award, she told her, ‘You are making a difference, and we thank you for that.’
“The State Department can best thank her, right now, by doing all they can to secure her freedom and safety, and Secretary Clinton and First Lady Obama should use their platforms as globally admired figures to rally the world to this cause.”
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