March 20, 2019 – The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) deplores the ongoing detention of Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi by the government of Saudi Arabia. Dr. al-Fassi, detained in a Saudi jail since June 21, 2018, was among ten Saudi women brought to a closed-door court hearing on March 13, 2019 on unknown charges.
Dr. al-Fassi was, until recently, an associate professor of women’s history at King Saud University in Riyadh. She is a renowned historian of pre-Islamic Arabia, and a prominent advocate for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. She is a longtime member of MESA, well known and widely respected internationally by her colleagues and the many younger scholars she has mentored. She was the recipient in November 2018, in absentia, of the MESA Academic Freedom Award, the highest recognition MESA can bestow in acknowledgment of sustained contributions to the cause of academic freedom.
We are outraged that Dr. al-Fassi was arrested, has spent ten months in jail, and now faces trial for her entirely peaceful efforts on behalf of women and their rights in Saudi Arabia. We call for the dropping of all charges and her immediate release from prison. Her treatment, and that of the other women advocates, is a travesty of justice and gives the lie to any claims on the part of the current Saudi regime that it is engaged in making meaningful reforms and promoting women’s rights.