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Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi's Sister, Condemned Saudi's Human Rights Record — and Ended Up in the Same Prison as Him

Samar Badawi, a prominent Saudi activist who spoke at the UN Human Rights Council, is being interrogated by authorities at the same facility where her former husband and brother are imprisoned.
January 13, 2016, 2:00pm
Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP

Update: Samar Badawi has been released from her interrogation and is now free on bail.

One of the few human rights activists still willing to speak out in Saudi Arabia was detained and interrogated by Saudi authorities at the facility where her former husband and brother are imprisoned.

Rights groups say Samar Badawi, a prominent Saudi activist who received an award from Hillary Clinton and spoke at the UN Human Rights Council, was summoned by Saudi authorities to Jeddah's Criminal Investigation Department on Tuesday morning, where she was questioned about her human rights work, and whether she is operating her former husband's Twitter account.

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Human Rights Watch said Badawi was then transferred to a police station, and then to Jeddah's Dhahban Prison, where her brother, blogger Raif Badawi, and former husband, human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, are imprisoned.

Related: Saudi Arabia's Most Famous Blogger Is Now On a Hunger Strike in Prison

She was then briefly released but then summoned for further questioning, according to Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch (HRW). "She was able to go home for a brief period, but then immediately had to turn," he said.

Saudi authorities confirmed that Badawi is being questioned by the Ministry of the Interior's Commission of Investigation in Jeddah.

"The interrogation takes place in the commission building or the local police station," said Mansour al-Turki, the spokesperson for the MOI, by text message.

Urgent: — Ensaf haidar (@miss9afi)January 12, 2016

Coogle said Saudi authorities have harassed Badawi and her family for years. She is best known for challenging the country's male guardianship system, when she fled her abusive father's home, at the age of 26, in 2008. Her father filed a petition of "parental disobedience" against her and a Saudi judge ordered her detained in a Jeddah prison, where she spent seven months until international pressure helped spur her release and all charges were dropped. She also sued him for abusing the guardianship system.

Saudi authorities later banned her from traveling outside the country after she appeared before the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 to call for the release of her former husband al-Khair. Al-Khair, a prominent human rights lawyer and activist, was convicted by a Saudi counter-terrorism court in 2014 of "insulting the judiciary, disobeying the ruler, and harming the reputation of the Kingdom" and sentenced to 15 years in prison, according to Amnesty International.

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Al-Khair was convicted in part due to his defense of Badawi's brother, Raif Badawi, a blogger and dissident who was sentenced by a Saudi court in 2014 to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for setting up a liberal website advocating reform. He received 50 lashes just over a year ago.

Related: Imprisoned Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi Wins EU's Most Prestigious Human Rights Prize

Samar had also advocated for Saudi women's right to drive and vote in municipal elections. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama presented her with the US State Department's International Woman of Courage Award in 2012, which commended her for being the "first woman to sue her father for abusing the guardian system and preventing her from marrying the suitor of her choice."

HRW's Coogle said that in recent years, as Saudi activists have been imprisoned for calling for reform in the Kingdom — even on social media platforms like Twitter — she was one of the few to continue to speak up.

"She was fearless," he said. "And that's what led to the detention of her then-husband — and why she's been harassed as well — they would go on TV interviews in Arabic and English and be outspoken."

Coogle was hopeful that Badawi would be released on the Saudi version of bail, and that the interrogation would end later on Wednesday — but noted that this would probably not be the last time she faced questioning about her advocacy.

"Just speaking out for reform and human rights will get you a jail term in Saudi," he said.

Related: Charlie Hebdo 'Set the Tone': The Year in Questionable Allies and Freedom of Speech