Sister to wrongly imprisoned Saudi aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, Areej al-Sadhan, addresses the 14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On the state of Saudi Arabia:
“My brother Abdul Rahman al-Sadhan is currently in solitary confinement, facing a 20 year sentence collectively for tweeting. That is just how repressive Saudi Arabia’s government has become – and it’s only getting worse.”
“The Saudi justice system is corrupt on the highest level. There is no real rule of law, no transparency, and no respect for the constitution.”
On losing her brother:
“I hugged my brother goodbye at the airport, not realizing it might be the last hug we’d share.”
“But in 2018, we had the shock of our lives. My brother disappeared and was nowhere to be found. Calls and texts were not going through.”
“Inside a secret prison, he was brutally tortured with electric shocks. They deliberately broke his hand and smashed his fingers saying “is this the hand you tweet with?””
On the influence of Saudi Arabia on the United Nations:
“How is it acceptable for Saudi Arabia to have representative bodies sitting at the UN, while it continues committing abuses on this horrifying level? While the abusers like the murderers of Jamal Khashoggi walk away free?”
“When will the U.N. stand up for the tens of thousands of victims like my brother who’ve been unjustly detained and tortured in Saudi?”
I’m a proud sister to a humanitarian aid worker and a brave human rights defender.
My brother AbdulRahman al-Sadhan is currently in solitary confinement, facing a 40-year sentence collectively for tweeting. That is just how repressive Saudi Arabia’s government has become – and it’s only getting worse.
I was born in the U.S. to a wonderful Saudi family. As kids, we’d split our time between the two countries and went to schools in both countries. Growing up, we were very close. I was the protective sister of my younger siblings. My brother was born in Saudi, he’s one of the sweetest and kindest people I know. He had a great sense of humor, and he always brought laughter and joy when he was around.
Growing up between the two countries, I couldn’t help but notice how different life in Saudi is; people couldn’t speak freely or be themselves. As I grew up, life in Saudi felt restricting and degrading for me as a woman. Women are treated like children their entire lives.
In college, following our ambitions, my sibling and I decided to come to the U.S. with our mother, to explore new opportunities and to continue our education. I started pursuing my master’s degree and working while my brother earned his business degree.
I remember one of our happiest days, in 2014, we were celebrating his graduation as a family. We eagerly shared our ambitions for the future. My brother said he wanted to continue in higher education. But first, he wanted to work, to get more experience & to save for his education. AbdulRahman cared about his home country, Saudi Arabia, and he wanted to participate in what he thought was a changing nation. A few months later, I hugged my brother goodbye at the airport, not realizing it might be the last hug we’d share.
After a year of searching for work, AbdulRahman called with wonderful news – he got a job at the Red Cross. I still remember the excitement in his voice. It didn’t surprise me knowing his caring and giving personality.
But in 2018, we had the shock of our lives. My brother disappeared and was nowhere to be found. Calls and texts were not going through.
My brother used to call my mom every day. She was the first to notice. She sensed that something bad had happened to him and she was terrified. We searched for days, but it wasn’t until his coworkers found our contact and told us what had happened.
AbdulRahman was working at the Red Crescent in Riyadh when the Saudi secret police came in & kidnapped him. They took his phone & car away without showing a warrant and escorted him to an unknown location. For a month, the Saudi state security denied any knowledge of my brother’s disappearance. Finally, they admitted that he was being held, but wouldn’t say anything about his whereabouts, wellbeing, or reason for his detention. They kept telling us he’s “under investigation.” Later, we found that “under investigation” was, in fact, “under torture.” Inside a secret prison, he was brutally tortured with electric shocks. They deliberately broke his hand and smashed his fingers, saying “is this the hand you tweet with?” They almost killed my brother! He ended up in the ICU for days fighting for his life.
For a year, we stayed silent & tried desperately to work with the Saudi government – but they refused to help us. So I started campaigning to free my brother and speaking publicly about the human rights abuses. After a year of increased international pressure, they finally allowed my brother to call my family in Riyadh for the 1st time in 2 years. The call lasted less than a minute; then he went into another year of disappearance.
After three years in solidarity confinement, they brought him to a secret sham trial where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, followed by a 20-year travel ban. The only evidence they brought was pages and pages of satirical tweets. All because it was critical of the oppressive Saudi regime. Even though my brother had visible signs of torture & had been forcibly disappeared, the judge ignored these violations. When we complained about these continued abuses to the U.N., the Saudi officials lied – they denied any abuses, saying that my brother gets regular calls and visits and that the Human Right commission attended his court hearings.
We heard from other victims’ families that the Saudi human rights commission visits the victims, not to report on the abuses, but to threaten them and force them to sign an agreement to never speak about the abuses again.
Since AbdulRahman’s last court hearing on Oct 5, 2021, our family hasn’t heard from him even once. All our requests for calls or visits keep getting denied by Saudi officials. He’s not even allowed to speak with legal counsel.
The Saudi justice system is corrupt on the highest level. There is no real rule of law, no transparency, and no respect for the constitution. It’s used to imprison journalists and peaceful activists, while actual criminals are protected and freed by the same system. Jamal Khashoggi’s killers, Saud al-Qahtani and the rest of the hit squad, are now living in fancy villas in Riyadh.
Today MBS’s regime controls everything inside the kingdom. The media, the courts, and even the human rights organizations that should be working to protect our people. They even went so far as to hack international companies like Twitter & plant spies inside them to identify activists behind anonymous accounts so they could imprison them and torture them. In the past, there was a small window for free speech. Today, the bar is so low that they’ll arrest, disappear and torture anyone for a tweet.
How is it acceptable for Saudi Arabia to have representative bodies sitting at the U.N. while committing abuses on this horrifying level? While abusers like the murderers of Jamal Khashoggi walk away free?
When will the U.N. stand up for my brother and the tens of thousands of victims who’ve been unjustly detained and tortured in Saudi?
The U.N. and international human rights organizations must be allowed into the kingdom to check on my brother’s condition and other cases. Without a monitoring mechanism in place, abusers will continue human right abuses with impunity.
I’ve been receiving threats from Saudi agents online who want to silence my voice. Those threats are real, but we can’t stay silent. My brother and thousands of other victims are suffering, and they are counting on our voices.
Will the U.N. hear us?
14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Tuesday, April 5, 2022