Saudi Arabia Detains Women’s Rights Activists

Activist Loujain Hathloul filmed herself driving in defiance of the kingdom's laws. (A still that appears in the FRONTLINE documentary "Saudi Arabia Uncovered")

Activist Loujain Hathloul filmed herself driving in defiance of the kingdom's laws. (A still that appears in the FRONTLINE documentary "Saudi Arabia Uncovered")

May 21, 2018

Only weeks before Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers is set to lift, the kingdom’s government has detained a number of prominent women’s rights advocates and accused them of being “traitors,” according to human rights groups and news outlets.

One of the activists who was reportedly detained is Loujain Hathloul, a leading campaigner against the driving ban who was featured in the 2016 FRONTLINE documentary, Saudi Arabia Uncovered.

This isn’t the first time Hathloul has been arrested. As the FRONTLINE documentary reported, in 2014, Hathloul filmed herself trying to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, and was then imprisoned for 73 days.

“I’ve been threatened since the beginning,” Hathloul said in the documentary. “My car was broken. I almost got beaten up. Just because of the campaign, people wrote me letters on Facebook and send me all sorts of weapon pictures, saying that if I continue, I would be murdered or my family harmed.”

In the below excerpt, see the footage that led to Hathloul’s 2014 arrest, and hear from her about why she chose to continue to advocate for women’s rights despite the risks. “It’s scary, but I’m continuing,” she vowed in the documentary, adding, “I’m not giving up.”

According to Amnesty International, Hathloul was arrested in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, May 15.

The arrest came nearly a year after her second arrest, in June of 2017 — and several months after what The Washington Post said was Hathloul’s “forced return” to Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where she had been attending graduate school.

Days before Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s high-profile March trip to America portraying himself as a reformer, the Post reported, Hathloul was stopped by security forces while driving in the UAE, flown back to Saudi Arabia, briefly imprisoned, and forbidden to use social media or leave the country.

Now, the Post says, Hathloul and six other Saudis who have supported women’s rights have been detained. Official statements did not name the seven individuals, Amnesty International reported, but branded them as a threat to state security and accused them of “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric.”

“This chilling smear campaign is an extremely worrying development for women human rights defenders and activists in Saudi Arabia,” Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns Samah Hadid said in an announcement.

Hathloul was one of several Saudi activists who shared their stories in Saudi Arabia Uncovered. Watch the documentary in full for a rarely-seen look inside the tightly-controlled kingdom.


Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

Most Minneapolis Voters Believe Crime Is on the Rise, New Poll Finds
An overwhelming majority of likely Minneapolis voters say crime is on the rise, a view strongly held by residents of every race, gender and age group across the city, according to a new Minnesota poll, our Local Journalism Initiative partner the Star Tribune reports.
September 18, 2021
Minnesota Poll: Most Minneapolis Voters Want Reform, Not Fewer Cops
A clear majority of Minneapolis voters oppose reducing the size of the city’s police force — a feeling that’s especially strong among Black voters, according to a new poll. At the same time, voters are showing support for replacing the police department with a new agency, our Local Journalism Initiative partner the Star Tribune finds.
September 18, 2021
Get the Backstory on Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’ as ICC Green Lights Investigation into Philippines Killings
With the International Criminal Court authorizing an official investigation into Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs," these two documentaries and one podcast episode offer context.
September 17, 2021
What Has Happened to Boeing Since the 737 Max Crashes
Since 346 people were killed in two crashes involving Boeing 737 Max planes in 2018 and 2019, the airplane maker has faced a number of changes. Here, a brief look.
September 14, 2021