Long considered one of the most restrictive countries in the world, political and civil rights in Saudi Arabia are almost nonexistent. Though de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman initially tried to style himself a “reformer,” the situation for human rights has deteriorated further under his rule. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018 sparked an international outcry and shined a spotlight on the horrific lengths to which the Saudi regime is willing to go to silence its critics. Since coming to power, Bin Salman has presided over a brutal crackdown on all forms of dissent, with especially vicious attacks on women and religious minorities, and a renewed wave of arrests targeting activists, journalists, and intellectuals.

Among those detained and facing charges as a result of their activism are the 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees Eman Al-Nafjan, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Nouf Abdulaziz. The increasingly dire situation in Saudi Arabia has become a key advocacy focus for PEN America. Our advocacy focuses primarily on ensuring justice and accountability for Khashoggi’s murder and calling for the release of imprisoned writers, academics, and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, particularly our Freedom to Write honorees.