Saudi Women's Rights Activists Were On Trial When They Received Award For Work Three women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia were honored with a prestigious award this week. But they can't receive it because they are on trial for their activism.
NPR logo

Opinion: Saudi Women's Rights Activists Awarded For Their Work — While On Trial

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/703986582/704042010" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Opinion: Saudi Women's Rights Activists Awarded For Their Work — While On Trial

Opinion: Saudi Women's Rights Activists Awarded For Their Work — While On Trial

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/703986582/704042010" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Three women were honored with a prestigious award this week, and it's likely they have no idea. They're activists for women's rights in Saudi Arabia, and they've been imprisoned for nearly a year along with other women activists, some of whom have reportedly been severely tortured in detention. The award is the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, and it's given to writers who've been imprisoned for their work. Announcing this year's recipients, the head of PEN America, Suzanne Nossel, said these gutsy women have challenged one of the world's most notoriously misogynist governments, inspiring the world with their demand to drive, to govern their own lives and to liberate all Saudi women from a form of medieval bondage that has no place in the 21st century.

Some of the women activists went on trial in Riyadh this week, but we have no idea what happened. No journalists or Western diplomats were allowed to observe. According to family members and human rights groups, the women have been denied access to lawyers. What we do know is this. These Saudi women have spent decades fighting for basic human rights, for dignity. They've done this in a kingdom where young Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is asserting his power and cracking down on activism, a crackdown that led to the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi last October.

It's hard to fathom the brave persistence that drives the Saudi women, their unshakable faith that good will prevail, that laws will change, that their voices will be heard. So let's listen to the words of Aziza al-Yousef, one of the women put on trial this week. She's a retired professor of computer science, a grandmother and a leading Saudi activist. This is from an interview with her posted online two years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

AZIZA AL-YOUSEF: (Foreign language spoken).

BLOCK: "We need to be optimistic in the darkest times," Yousef says. "No matter how much others try to put us down and tell us there is no hope, there should be optimism. There should be hope. Without hope," she concludes, "there won't be change."

(SOUNDBITE OF BREAK OF REALITY'S "VINTAGE")

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.