Amnesty International has called on Saudi Arabia to lift its draconian travel bans targeting activists and their families and has launched a campaign highlighting the plight of 30 activists who are barred from leaving the kingdom after their prison sentences ended.
The rights group claims that Saudi Arabian authorities are using arbitrary travel bans as a tool to punish and control activists, writers and journalists by locking them inside the country, or, in the case of those living abroad, by preventing their families from travelling overseas.
The campaign, '#LetThemFly', documents the cases of 30 Saudi Arabian human rights defenders who were sentenced to prison following grossly unfair trials, with travel bans coming into force as soon as they complete their sentences. It further documents 39 cases of relatives of activists who found themselves – by no official order or other forms of notification – also under travel bans, effectively forcibly separating families.
"The Saudi Arabian authorities' arbitrary use of travel bans against activists and human rights defenders reflects a bleak reality in the country, where dissenting voices continue to be ruthlessly silenced while leaders speak of progressive reform," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The activists who dared express any form of criticism or opinion not to the liking of the country's leadership have become victims of unlawful and punitive travel bans that effectively curtail their freedom of movement, impacting major decisions in their lives
added Maalouf. "The Saudi Arabian authorities must lift all arbitrary travel bans, stop this vindictive practice and start respecting the rights to freedom of expression and movement."
Amnesty highlighted the case of Raif Badawi, a blogger who was imprisoned in 2014 and released in March. Despite his release, Badawi has been placed under a travel ban. Multiple rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have called on Saudi authorities to end his travel ban after he endured a decade of separation from his family, who currently reside in Canada.
Another high-profile case highlighted by the rights group is that of Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan. The aid worker who worked with the International Red Crescent humanitarian network in Riyadh was arrested on 12 March 2018 and then held incommunicado and forcibly disappeared for two years for running a satirical Twitter account.
Al-Sadhan's sister, Areej Al-Sadhan, who lives in the United States, told Amnesty International that travel bans deprive people of the chance to live a normal life as they disrupt people's professional and social lives. She added that being forcibly separated from one's family inflicts a grave psychological and emotional toll.
"They are tearing families apart. This is unjust, illegal and inhumane," said Areej. "With a travel ban, Saudi Arabia becomes the prison, a place of punishment, a place that restricts people's freedom and alienates citizens from their home country."