Global Magnitsky Awards
Outstanding Human Rights Activist Presented
Director of Columbia University Global Freedom of Expression
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings
London, 14 November 2020
I so wish you could be here today to receive your prize, alongside your wonderful sister, Lina, your biggest supporter, ambassador and advocate.
Instead, you are detained in a Saudi high security prison, on hunger strike, probably unaware that we are celebrating you this evening, as we have celebrated you so many times over the last 2,5 years.
I have not met you, like many people present this evening. What we know of you are these big brown eyes, this wonderful smile, your facetious, funny videos, your humor, your audacity, and your courage.
What we do know of you is the cruelty of those that have imprisoned you, threatened, tortured, sexually abused – For demanding you could drive your car – like your brothers. For demanding an end to the guardianship system. For equality.
Of course, this is not quite why you have been in detention for 2.5 years; held incommunicado with no access to your family and lawyer, subjected to spells in solitary confinement, forced since 26 October to go on hunger strike.
In 2014, you had already been arrested – because you had driven your car in Saudi Arabia! Because you did not let a man drive you, took care of your own freedom of movement. For that, you were imprisoned, for 73 days. A heavy punishment for a non-crime. But a small punishment compared to what happened 4 years later.
Because ultimately, it is not the nature of your demands that brought you to jail this time around.
It is that you dared formulating them. On your own or with a few other Saudi feminists like you. Outside any imposed framework. Without any supreme guide leading your thoughts.
The Saudi regime is silencing you, seeking that you surrender to a biggest male authority, trying to render you invisible, to the rest of the world and to your country, threatening and beating you into submission
Because it cannot allow your free spirit, your determination to claim your freedom of conscience, the examples you set for others in Saudi Arabia and others around the world.
I suspect too, because it cannot stand your smile, your laugh, your youth, your beauty, your determination, your courage
Because when you speak, you smile, you act, you claim, your advocate
The emperor feels naked.
The Prince is naked.
Gone the claims of modernity
Disappeared the pretense of vision and authority
Against your smile, driving your car, advocating for equality,
The most powerful man of the country feels insignificant, little. Reduced.
And ultimately, he is indeed all of these.
SPOILED of his cherished prizes.
Your detention has unveiled the treachery of the Man and his regime, empty of any other values and vision than those driven by and for the self-interest, self-obsession, of autocracies.
I do believe that you can overcome and will overcome the cruelty of Mohammed Bin Salman; that you will outlive him, his cohorts of brutal counsellors and guards, his silent and coward subjects.
But meanwhile, I think of you, of the softness of your smile
Languishing in prison.
Sometimes you may be scared. In pain. You probably miss so painfully your father and mother, your brother and sisters, your home, the warmth and protection of their love. You may have found complicity, solidarity, sisterhood among the others detained in the high security prison.
But 2,5 years? How could they? How dare they?
And I feel angry.
It is not just the Prince who is naked, when you speak, claim, advocate and smile. When you languish where you are. When your words reach us from behind the walls.
It is not just the Prince. It is all of Them too.
All of those prepared to participate to the G20 meeting in Riyad, in silence.
All of those who signed sports or cultural accords for events worth millions, in silence.
They did not say your name, darling Loujain.
They did not think of you in this high security prison, when they put their signature at the bottom of the page. They had dollar signs in front of their greedy eyes.
They saw audience. Consumers. Market shares.
They did not see you, in your cell.
They did not recall your smile.
No matter what they may claim: They too are NAKED.
And they ARE PREPARED TO go along with the charade
To give a seal of legitimacy to an autocrat leader who jail you and others NOT for what you have demanded
BECAUSE YOU HAVE DEMANDED IT
BECAUSE YOU HAVE RAISED YOUR VOICES
AND YOUR FISTS
AND YOUR CAR KEYS
AND LOOKED UP TO THE WORLD
I DO NOT NEED A NON-ELECTED LEADER TO TELL ME
HOW TO THINK
WHEN TO SMILE
AND YOU SAID
ME LOUJAIN AL ATHALOUL, SAUDI, FEMALE, AGE 31, FEMINIST, A WOMAN, AN ACTIVIST,
ME LOUJAIN AL ATHALOUL, AN OUTSTANDING WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST FROM SAUDI ARABIA.
I am presenting you with the Outstanding Human Rights Activist prize a few days after democratic processes delivered hope again in the world’s most powerful country, thanks to the strength, resilience and determination of human rights activism particularly from young and Black women activists, against bigotry, cruelty and hate.
I imagine how much you would have celebrated this moment and loved and supported the Black Lives Matter and #metoo movements.
I have a sense of optimism that maybe, thanks to you, thanks to them
Just maybe, it may just be a little be less difficult to fight and argue and demand your freedom and that of many others around the world.
That maybe the naked prince and his supporters will be a little bit less brazen, arrogant,
That it will finally become easier to state the obvious: that No country should be able to buy their way out of accountability, no matter their influence, strategic relevance; no matter the nature of their friendships.
That finally those prepared to attend the G20 Summit will speak up. For you and many others.
That there will be No more naked emperors; no more weavers of fabrication; no more fearful subjects waving at the world cameras.
I find myself imaging the Global Magnitsky prize 2021, with you in person, with us,
presenting the Prize to the 2021 recipient.