Blogger; mother of four; B.A., English, University of Birmingham; M.A., English as a Second Language; post-graduate Ph.D. field: linguistics; religion: Wahabbi Muslim.
Present Location: Dhaban Central Prison, Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.
Disclosure: BackChannel’s editor’s Facebook friendship and correspondence with Eman Fahad Al Nafjan dates back to May 12, 2011.
The editor’s last note to Eman — it was a long time ago given the richness of the Internet experience: August 16, 2016 — contained reference to a Muslim Matters piece, “World’s Largest Women’s University Opens in Saudi Arabia” (May 31, 2011), and had to do with Princess Noura bint Abdulrahman Women’s University, Riyadh. The find had to do with work on a BackChannels’ piece: “Sixteen Women — The Kingdom’s Most Powerful.” November 2, 2016.
The Kingdom had to have seen this greater day coming, “greater” for connecting the privileged of Saudi Arabia with the full breadth of the world’s English-speaking and other intelligentsia, i.e., the broad if thin international band of cosmopolitan, engaged, informed, and rapidly “chatyping” personalities. Nafjan has not only fit right in with the world’s intellectual class, she appears to be in trouble with the medieval kingdom for having been raised for the modernizing path and role taken.
What is it about feudal / medieval / tribal peacocks that so sustains contempt and fear in relation to women that the royal response to mild challenge, criticism, and practical reasoning comes to a still barbarous demand: “Lock her up!”
Addendum – March 14, 2019 (added to post July 27, 2019)
NEW YORK—PEN America announced today that it will award the 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award to journalist, blogger, and activist Nouf Abdulaziz, activist and social media commentator Loujain Al-Hathloul, and blogger, columnist, and activist Eman Al-Nafjan—three Saudi women imprisoned for challenging, through their writing and their activism, therestrictive guardianship system that governs Saudi women and limits theirability to travel, marry, work, or receive education and healthcare without approval from a male guardian. Abdulaziz, Al-Hathloul, and Al-Nafjan each used their digital and news-reporting platforms to speak out on women’s rights and other forms of human rights repression in Saudi Arabia, including the long-standing ban on women driving. The ban was lifted in June 2018, yet immediately thereafter, many of those who had advocated for this change were arrested. Today these three writer-activists are among those still incarcerated for their dissent, reportedly facing torture, isolation, and threats of rape. In early March, Saudi authorities announced that they are planning to indict a number of those detained on national security-related charges; initial hearings in the trials of Loujain Al-Hathloul and Eman Al-Nafjan began March 13. Pen America. “Pen America to Honor Imprisoned Saudi Writer-Activist and Woman’s Rights Champions Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Eman al-Nafjan with the Pen/Barbey Freedom to Write Award at 2019 Literary Gala”. Press Release, March 14, 2019.
Al Jazeera. “The Saudi women detained for demanding basic human rights.” Reposted on News24, November 30, 2018. –>
Those under arrest have been branded threats to national security and have been accused of being foreign agents. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the reason for the arrest is to silence the women and prevent others from participating in activism.
Rights organisations and governments around the world have called on the Saudi authorities to release all political prisoners, but to no avail.
Al-Nafjan, Eman. “Saudi Arabia, My Changing Home.” The New York Times, June 8, 2012. –>
Most people in the West, naturally enough, get their ideas about Saudi life from the media. They learn that women here are forbidden to drive, that they must be almost completely covered up when they appear in public, that unmarried women and girls can’t appear in public unaccompanied by family members.
All of this is more or less true, but it omits the reality that, for the average middle class Saudi woman who comes from a healthy family background, life is pretty good.
When everything is in place, a Saudi woman can live a comfortable life. A respectable husband is arranged for her to marry; she typically has a driver, servants and an extended family ready to give her financial and emotional support. All that’s expected of her is to have babies and fulfill social obligations.
Amnesty. “Saudi Arabia: Release Women’s Human Rights Defenders Immediately!” June 21, 2018. –>
Official statements in state media accused Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Youssef of forming a “cell,” posing a threat to state security for their “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric.” A related hashtag describing them as “Agents of Embassies”, along with a graphic showing the six activists’ faces, have also been circulating on social media and Saudi Arabian print and broadcast media. Amnesty International is concerned that if charged, the activists could face up to 20 years in prison. Now is the time to take action and defend these brave activists, who are some of the most prominent heroines of the human rights movement in Saudi Arabia.
As the world praises Saudi Arabia for recent “reforms” – including allowing women to drive – we must raise the alarm for these imprisoned defenders who have fought tirelessly for years for women’s rights in the Kingdom.
Amnesty International. “Saudi Arabia: Release women human rights defenders now!” Update on detainees and FAQs. n.d.
Amnesty International. “Saudi Arabia: Reports of Torture and sexual harassment of detained activists.” November 20, 2018. –>
According to three separate testimonies obtained by the organization, the activists were repeatedly tortured by electrocution and flogging, leaving some unable to walk or stand properly. In one reported instance, one of the activists was made to hang from the ceiling, and according to another testimony, one of the detained women was reportedly subjected to sexual harassment, by interrogators wearing face masks.
Associated Press. “Saudi Arabia tortured female right-to-drive activists, says Amnesty.” The Guardian, November 20, 2018.
Committee to Protect Journalists. “Saudi blogger Eman Al Nafjan detained.” May 22, 2018.
Facebook. “Emad Al Nafjan”.
Fahim, Kareem. “Jailed Saudi women’s rights activists said to face electric shocks, beatings and other abuse.” The Washington Post, November 20, 2018.
Human Rights Watch. “Saudis Arrest 7 Women’s Rights Activists who had Upstaged Crown Prince on Driving.” Reposted by Juan Cole in Informed Comment, May 19, 2018. HRW Location.
Wikipedia. “Eman al-Nafjan”.
Saudiwoman’s Weblog. “About”.
The Guardian. “Eman Al Nafjan”. Profile and authored stories.
The Kingdom’s brand for the Kingdom’s best: “Traitor”.
Author of the tweet: Jamal Khashoggi.