Despite the G20 Summit taking place virtually this year, due to the travel limitations and social distancing rules imposed since the COVID-19 outbreak, Saudi Arabia is reportedly trying to do everything humanly possible to impress members of the G20, as it prepares to host the summit for the very first time. However, questions are rising over the country's human rights record, especially ones related to women activists who have been in jail for several years, one of whom is on a hunger strike for weeks.
For the last few weeks, online users have been joining efforts of human rights organizations and a number of politicians from across the world to call on the government of Saudi Arabia to release the jailed activists ahead of the summit, which could spare the kingdom's officials scrutiny they constantly try to avoid.
Online, many commentators have noted that Saudi officials have been trying to paint a different, more open, and modern picture of KSA over the past few years, by publicizing reformist decisions, including allowing women to drive, relaxing laws on women's attire, and inaugurating women-only sports events.
Hoping that international pressure that had successfully resulted in the release of three women activists in March 2019 can work this time to release other, more influential women, social media users have been sharing news of a possible release of several names, such as Nassima Al-Sada and the well-known Lujain Al-Hathlool, who has been on a hunger strike since October 26th, according to her family.
Look! Another public relations tactic. Saudi Arabia is just continuing to dangle the Saudi women’s rights activists to get the world's attention. Let’s make sure that #G20 world leaders say enough is enough. https://t.co/plb5fj3TGg— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) November 11, 2020
International rights groups, British lawyers & relatives of activists behind bars have urged countries to boycott #G20 summit in Saudi Arabia and demand the Kingdom immediately release unlawfully detained women’s rights activists & dissidents.@LotteLeicht1https://t.co/nc6Bex57aL pic.twitter.com/XncjCzEF6S— InfamyInfo (@InfamyInfo) November 12, 2020
Over the last week, BBC Arabic has reported Saudi's consideration of releasing the Saudi women who have been arrested for defying laws that are no longer followed in the country, such as women driving across the kingdom, saying that the Saudi ambassador to the UK stated that "a debate is underway among officials about the women’s continued detention." However, the ambassador denied the reports a few days later.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has warned that such statements could only be "PR stunts" that are meant to soften criticism against the Saudi treatment of the women activists until the end of the G20 summit to be held on the 20th and 21st of November. Such voices suggested that these "claims are only released prior to international events but none of it comes true."
Two sides of Saudi Arabia.— Keily Politics (@KeilyPolitics) November 10, 2020
On one side they are empowering women through G20 summit, organizing golf tournaments and on the other side they have detained and tortured many women rights activists without any charges.@FarahSFerraton @PierreABISAAB @PhelimKine pic.twitter.com/P2R04I8jhq
It's good news that the Saudi crown prince doesn't want everyone at the G20 summit talking about his insistence on locking up women’s rights activists who fought for – and won – the right for women to drive. Now if he would just order them released. https://t.co/Bsqqb3vvJG pic.twitter.com/mt2Giz62RT— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) November 11, 2020
Moreover, some social media users argued that Saudi Arabia is trying to present an "unrealistic" portrayal of women's lives in the country to cover up for its human rights violations against them, in an attempt to avoid the mounting criticism."
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