Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released Feb. 10 after spending a total of 1,001 days—almost three years—in prison. Al-Hathloul had been championing women's rights since 2013. She lobbied especially for the right to drive, as well as for an end to male guardianship laws in the Saudi kingdom. While women were granted the right to drive in 2017, advocates for the change were detained by authorities weeks before it took effect.
President Joe Biden announced Feb. 4 the United States will end support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen that has deepened suffering in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country. "This war has to end," Biden told diplomats in his first visit to the State Department as president, saying the conflict has created a "humanitarian and strategic catastrophe." Biden pledged an end to "relevant" US arms sales, while giving no immediate details on what that would mean. The administration had already said it is pausing some of the billions of dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The United States has announced it will designate Yemen's Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, a move aid groups and diplomats have long warned will make getting assistance to people trapped in the "world's worst humanitarian crisis" even harder. In a Jan. 10 statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was officially notifying the US Congress of his intent to designate Ansar Allah, the official name of the Houthis, a "Foreign Terrorist Organization." The change is go into force on Jan. 19, and three Houthi leaders will also be blacklisted. NGOs have lobbied heavily against the designation, saying it will seriously hamper efforts to bring aid to the estimated 80% of Yemen's 30 million people who live in parts of the country controlled by the Houthis. It's already hard to deliver aid in Yemen, in part because of obstacles put up by the Houthis themselves.
The world is breathing a collective sigh of relief after General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy officially contacted the team of president-elect Joe Biden, marking the Trump administration's belated initiation of the transition process. However, the widespread portrayal that Trump has blinked and is accepting Biden's victory is highly questionable at best. Both Murphy's Nov. 23 letter and Trump's tweet about it state that the decision was Murphy's, taken unilaterally, and that Trump is continuing to contest the election results. Murphy was likely facing what she thought to be the inevitable—Michigan lawmakers had that same day resisted Trump pressure and certified Biden's win in the state, while Trump's legal team got laughed out of court in Pennsylvania. However, the team continues to appeal and is conceding nothing. So no, Trump may not have blinked. And if his Plan A of a judicial coup fails, he and his cabinet may now be preparing the hypothesized Plan B....
Over a thousand workers at Kenana Sugar Company in Sudan are starting their second month on strike to demand basic trade union rights, increased wages to offset the spiralling cost of living, the removal of figures associated with the old regime from company management, and the reinstatement of 34 workers sacked for taking part in the uprising against dictator Omar el-Bashir last year. Other demands raised by the strikers include renovating the workers' canteen, improvements to health services in the company town, and investment in education for workers' children.
A UN group of experts has called on the Security Council to refer human rights violations and war crimes committed in the ongoing Yemen conflict to the International Criminal Court. The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen concluded in a report released Sept. 8 that the governments of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Southern Transitional Council are responsible for rights violations including "arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the recruitment and use in hostilities of children." The report also alleges that "de facto authorities" in the capital Sana'a (the Houthi rebels) are responsible for the same violations.
Saudi Arabia has denied prominent detainees contact with their family members and lawyers for months, Human Rights Watch said Sept. 6 in a letter requesting access to the country and private prison visits with detainees. The situation raises serious concerns for the detainees' safety and well-being, the rights group said. Saudi authorities have banned in-person visits with prisoners across the country since March to limit the spread of COVID-19. But Saudi activists and other sources say that authorities have also unduly denied numerous imprisoned dissidents and other detainees regular communication with the outside world.
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,600) and deportation for a social media post supporting equal rights for people in same-sex relationships, Human Rights Watch announced July 28. Mohamad al-Bokari was arrested in Riyadh on April 8, after posting a video on social media, which authorities said contained "sexual references" and "violated public order and morals." This was apparently a reference to the line: "Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people." Sources told HRW that al-Bokari was subjected to a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek "proof" of homosexual conduct. HRW says the practice has no scientific basis, violates medical ethics, and constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Al-Bokari was charged with "violating public morality" and "imitating women."