Press release

Justice Initiative Calls on Belgian Court to Reject Recommendation to Dismiss Case on Saudi Crackdown on Political Dissidents

June 21, 2022
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BRUSSELS—Today, the Open Society Justice Initiative expressed disappointment over the Belgian federal prosecutor’s request that the Brussels court of appeal dismiss a case into crimes against humanity committed by Saudi officials against political dissidents and human rights defenders including Loujain al-Hathloul. Al-Hathloul is a Saudi women's rights activist who was arrested in 2018 and arbitrarily detained, imprisoned, and tortured. The complaint was submitted by the Justice Initiative on behalf of her sisters, Alia and Lina—both Belgian residents, and in Lina’s case, a Belgian citizen.

"The courage of Loujain, Lina, and Alia has inspired people globally, but they have paid the price with the repeated violation of their human rights. What message does it send to victims around the world if Belgian courts do not even consider this case?” said Maïté De Rue, a senior legal officer at the Justice Initiative. “The prosecutor’s rationale for dismissal completely overlooks the overwhelming evidence we’ve presented and flies in the face of Belgium’s historical commitment to upholding international law and human rights. Our clients seek nothing more and nothing less than the rights and protections guaranteed to every Belgian resident—all we ask is that the courts live up to that promise.”

The complaint is a first-of-its-kind legal filing to address the full scale of crimes committed by the Saudi regime against detractors since Mohammed bin Salman was appointed crown prince in 2017 and pursued a first wave of mass arrests described by Human Rights Watch as “a coordinated crackdown on dissent.”

Drawing from evidence and information gathered from UN bodies, human rights organizations, and media reports, the complaint catalogs the arbitrary detention of hundreds of individuals in Saudi Arabia since 2017. The complaint also documents dozens of cases of torture, murder, state-enforced disappearances, and persecutions—amounting to clear crimes against humanity and demonstrating the brutal and systematic targeting of political dissidents by the Saudi regime.

Crimes against humanity can be prosecuted in Belgium under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows domestic judicial systems to investigate and prosecute certain crimes against one of its nationals or its residents for at least three years, even if they were not committed on its territory. The complaint seeks justice under this principle for Loujain and her sisters, who are all direct victims of crimes against humanity by the Saudi regime, the latter by virtue of being family members of Loujain and suffering extreme psychological hardship from her enforced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention. The Brussels court of appeal will now rule on the prosecutor’s request to dismiss the complaint.

“The prosecutor’s request for dismissal is not the end of our fight. We will pursue every avenue within the Belgian judicial system to obtain justice. Belgium and the international community cannot allow impunity for crimes against humanity,” said Lina al-Hathloul.

Alia al-Hathloul added: “This decision is unfortunate and doesn’t reflect the values for which the Belgian courts have long stood. Our complaint is grounded in exhaustive evidence and details a litany of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Saudi regime. We are confident that the court of appeal will not adhere to the position of the prosecutor and decide in our favor.”

Loujain Al-Hathloul is a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist who helped lead a campaign to allow Saudi Arabian women to drive by livestreaming herself violating the ban, which was lifted just over a month after her arrest in 2018. During her detention, which lasted nearly three years, she was tortured with electric shocks, whippings, beating, and other methods: acts that amount to enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and persecution.

Maryse Alié, a Brussels-based lawyer serving as legal counsel for Alia and Lina al-Hathloul, added: “Belgian courts must take action to ensure that crimes committed by the Saudi regime against those living in Belgium are named and redressed. The court of appeal must therefore order the opening of an investigation.”

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