Human rights groups call on Riyadh to release dissident physician and social media activist

Dissident Saudi physician and social media activist Lina al-Sharif (Photo via Twitter)

Nearly two dozen human rights organizations have called on Saudi authorities to unconditionally release a Saudi physician and social media activist, who went missing after her arrest in the kingdom in May last year.

The 22 organizations, in a joint letter, said Lina al-Sharif has been arbitrarily detained for more than a year as a result of her activities on social media. She spent her 34th birthday at al-Ha'ir Prison, located approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the capital Riyadh, on May 11.

The letter added that Sharif is a medical doctor in Riyadh. In late May 2021, officials from the Saudi Presidency of State Security raided her family home in Riyadh, arrested her and forcibly disappeared her for two months, until July 26 last year, when she was eventually put in Ha'ir Prison.

Prior to her arrest, Sharif was discussing Saudi politics and advocating for human rights, including women's rights, freedom of belief and freedom of expression, in the kingdom on social media.

On July 9, 2021, MENA Rights Group – a Geneva-based legal advocacy NGO that focuses on the protection and promotion of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa, sent an urgent appeal to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, urging Saudi authorities to reveal her whereabouts.

Saudi authorities responded to the request on September 21 last year, and claimed that Sharif had violated Saudi laws and was arrested on the basis of Articles 2 and 19 of the Law on Combating and Financing Terrorism.

However, the authorities did not provide the team with more information about the accusations against Sharif, and her case is still under investigation.

Ever since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has arrested dozens of activists, bloggers, intellectuals and others perceived as political opponents, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnations of the crackdown.

Muslim scholars have been executed and women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured as freedom of expression, association, and belief continue to be denied.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.

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