We all have that one person we immediately connect with; someone who you know will always be part of your life. The person you can easily talk to, even though it has been months if not years since you last saw one another. For me, Eman Al Nafjan is such a person; someone I am proud of, who inspires me and makes me laugh.
We met in 2010 while I was living in Saudi Arabia. Eman introduced me to Saudi culture and cuisine, and taught me useful Arabic phrases. She took me around the magical souks in Riyadh.
We used to spend hours discussing all aspects of life. At that time, she was working as an English teacher at a university while completing her PhD in linguistics. Since 2010, our tradition has been to meet once a year to enjoy new places, visit museums and catch up. We are both morning people, but Eman is up earlier than most. Even on holiday, I would often find her sitting at a table, very early in the morning, with a cup of strong coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
Last May, Eman was detained by Saudi authorities along with Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, and four other women's rights activists for promoting social rights.
Eman is open-minded and loves to push boundaries, no matter the risks. Even when she disagrees with someone, it is always possible to talk to her openly. She is a scholar with a thirst for knowledge and culture. She is the mother of four children, the eldest a teenager and the youngest only a toddler. She is a loving mother who puts her children first; caring and worrying about them like mothers do, wanting them to see the world and its cultures, teaching them to be good, kind people. She has been a source of advice and inspiration in my own motherhood.
Once, she read a picture book to my young child, improvising a story about the importance of sharing. That is who Eman is and what she stands for: justice, kindness and love. Eman does not like to be apart from her children, especially when they are very young. That is why her arrest is heart-wrenching. It is distressing to know that she has been forcibly separated from her children for seven months, missing out on many important milestones for each child.
Despite having children, she invests much of her time and energy in causes bigger than herself and in promoting social rights. She started her blog Saudiwoman.me in 2008, two years before we met. It was her platform to air her opinions about society. As Eman herself writes, she is proud of Saudi Arabia, its history and accomplishments. Her aim was to correct misunderstandings and talk more openly about Saudi society. She is a strong woman with a sharp pen, which quickly led to attention and requests from international media, including The Guardian, Foreign Policy, New York Times and others.
I am writing this because I want the world to know who Eman Al Nafjan is. A kind, beautiful soul who has been wrongfully detained. The seriousness of the baseless allegations and the media campaign against her is worrying. Peaceful campaigning and freedom of speech are never a crime. Most worryingly is the horrible news about torture and the condition of many women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia today. Their lives are in danger. I am concerned about Eman’s wellbeing. I think about her every day. Especially in the evening, when I can kiss my children good night, knowing Eman misses out on kissing hers.
Eman, the world has not forgotten about you. You might be silenced, but we will continue to speak up for you until you are released and reunited with your children again.
TKI wrote this piece anonymously in support for Amnesty International Norway’s campaign to free the Saudi women who have been imprisoned since May 2018.
On Thursday 14 February, the European Parliament held an urgent debate on the situation facing women’s human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. It adopted a resolution condemning the detention and torture of Saudi women activists.
Amnesty International has urged EU countries to end their silence on Saudi Arabia’s systematic violations and to call for the immediate release of these brave women’s rights defenders. Find out more about Eman’s case here.