Calls for Irish delegation to be sent to Saudi Arabia to inspect abuses against women

Ireland must speak out against Saudi treatment of female prisoners, say activists

Seven female activists were detained and imprisoned last year in Saudi Arabia after campaigning against the ban on women driving and the country’s male guardianship system. File photograph: Reuters

The Irish Government must speak out robustly against the abuse of women’s rights and treatment of female prisoners in Saudi Arabia as part of its bid to secure a seat on the UN’s Security Council, a press conference in Dublin has heard.

Abdulaziz Almoayyad, a Saudi anti-regime activist who lives in Ireland, expressed extreme concern on Tuesday at the treatment of seven female activists who were detained and imprisoned last year after campaigning against the ban on women driving and the country’s male guardianship system.

Speaking at a press conference highlighting the treatment of women in his home country, Mr Almoayyad accused the international community of turning “a blind eye” to the abuses of the Saudi regime in favour of protecting trade deals.

Mr Almoayyad said Ireland should request that an all-party delegation visit Saudi Arabia and gain access to the jails where the women are being held in “barbaric” conditions.


“We are aware that a similar delegation from the UK, the parliamentary detention review panel, had requested permission to visit, and had approached the Saudi government for permission to do so, but have to date received no reply,” he said.

Under Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, women must have permission from a male guardian - their father, husband, brother or son - to enrol in higher education, seek employment, travel or marry. Rising numbers of Saudi girls and women are fleeing the kingdom because of the guardianship rules, including Rahaf al-Qunun who made world headlines in January after she fled her family and flew to Thailand. Ms al-Qunun was ultimately resettled in Canada.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia was “totally at odds with human decency” and described the kingdom’s actions against activists as “totally repugnant”.

“The Irish Government cannot stand idly by while women’s rights are being curtailed in everyday life and activists jailed and tortured for speaking up,” he said.

Following the German decision in November 2018 to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia, Mr Boyd Barrett urged the Government to speak out publicly against the regime’s abuses and push for sanctions. He urged the State to engage with the resolution passed by the European Parliament earlier this month condemning the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia.

The resolution has called for the Saudi government to end all forms of harassment against the female activists who were imprisoned in 2018. It expressed dismay at the existence of the male guardianship system and deep concern at the prevalence of gender-based violence which remains “largely underreported and undocumented”.

Mr Boyd Barrett advised that the Government highlight the abuse of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia as part of its campaign to secure a seat on the UN Security Council.

“It’s a sort of test for what it is the Government is trying to achieve by getting in the UN Security Council . . . is it going to go quiet in order to get votes or actually speak out robustly for human rights on the international scene?”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast