chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
April 23, 2020

Urgent Call for Release of Arbitrarily Detained Human Rights Defenders Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Last updated: December 9, 2020

The ABA Justice Defenders Program calls for the immediate release of all arbitrarily detained human rights defenders around the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular those whose detention the Program has documented as arbitrary:



Paul Chouta, a Cameroonian journalist charged with defamation and spreading fake news on the basis of his reporting. Mr. Chouta has been detained since May 2019 and the proceedings against him have been repeatedly delayed.


Tito Elia Magoti, a Tanzanian human rights lawyer and Theodory Giyan, an IT expert, detained since December 24, 2019 for their public criticism of the government. Their trial has been postponed seven times.



Mansur Mingelov, a Turkmen minority rights activist detained since August 2012 and sentenced to 22 years in prison in August 2012 in a trial characterized by numerous fair trial violations.


Saudi Arabia

Salman Al-Awda, a Saudi Arabian cleric detained since September 2017 and facing the death penalty. 

Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger detained since June 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes in May 2014.

Samar Badawi, a Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist detained since July 2018. In November 2020, a Saudi criminal court transferred Ms. Badawi's case to the Specialized Criminal Court, the Kingdom's anti-terrorism court.

Israa Al-Ghomgham, a Saudi Arabian minority rights activist detained since December 2015. In February 2019, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor confirmed that Ms. Ghomgham was no longer facing the death penalty. However, as of December 2020, Ms. Ghomgham has not yet received her verdict.

Loujain Al-Hathloul, a Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist detained since May 2018. In late October 2020, Ms. Hathloul's family reported that she has begun a hunger strike to protest the conditions of her detention.  In November 2020, a Saudi criminal court transferred Ms. Hathloul's case to the Specialized Criminal Court, the Kingdom's anti-terrorism court.

Mohammed Hassan Al-Habib, a Saudi Arabian cleric detained since July 2016 and sentenced to seven years in prison in January 2018.

Waleed Abu Al-Khair, a Saudi Arabian human rights lawyer detained since April 2014 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in January 2015. Mr. Khair is the recipient of the 2019 ABA International Human Rights Award.

Hassan Farhan Al-Maliki, a Saudi Arabian cleric detained since September 2017 and facing the death penalty. 

Ali Al-Nimr, a Saudi Arabian national detained since February 2012 and sentenced to death by beheading as a minor in May 2014 for participating in a peaceful protest. On August 26, 2020, the Saudi Human Rights Commission announced the judiciary would review Mr. Nimr's death sentence in accordance with a decree to halt capital punishment for child offenders.

Issa Al-Nukheifi, a Saudi Arabian anti-corruption activist detained since December 2016 and sentenced to six years in prison in February 2018 in addition to a travel and social media ban post-release.

Mohammed Al-Otaibi, a Saudi Arabian co-founder of the Union for Human Rights in Riyadh detained since May 2017 and sentenced to 14 years in jail in January 2018 in apparent connection to his legitimate rights work with the organization. Mr. Otaibi is currently appealing his guilty verdict.

Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan, a Saudi Arabian humanitarian worker detained without charge since March 2018 and reportedly subject to torture. According to his family, Mr. Sadhan has been held incommunicado since his arrest with the exception of a one-minute phone call that he made to his family in February 2020.



In the summer of 2018, Maharashtra police arrested the following activists and lawyers who historically advocated for the rights of marginalized and vulnerable communities in India. A preliminary review by the Justice Defenders Program of the Bhima Koregaon judicial records raised serious concern regarding procedural irregularities, abuse of process, and violations of fundamental human rights. The majority of the detained Bhima Koregaon activists are senior citizens and many report health issues that put them at higher risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sudha Bharadwaj, an Indian human rights lawyer detained since August 2018.

Sudhir Dhawale, an Indian minority rights activist detained since June 2018.

Arun Ferreira, an Indian human rights lawyer detained since August 2018.

Surendra Gadling, an Indian human rights lawyer detained since June 2018.

Vernon Gonsalvesan Indian academic detained since August 2018.

Gautam Navalakha, an Indian civil rights activist detained since April 2020.

Varvara Rao, an Indian academic detained since August 2018. 

Mahesh Raut, an Indian scholar detained since June 2018.

Shoma Sen, an Indian professor detained since June 2018. 

Rona Wilson, an Indian civil rights activist detained since June 2018.

Anand Teltumbde, an Indian professor detained since April 2020.



Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE)- Imprisoned Lawyers in Turkey and COVID-19

Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE)- Turkey: Judicial Harassment of Thirteen Lawyers