Open letter: NGOs call on Boeing to urge Saudi Arabia to lift travel bans on peaceful activists

March 23, 2023

MENA Rights Group joins 7 human rights NGOs in sending an open letter to Boeing in light of their latest commercial deals with Saudi Arabia, calling on the latter to lift travel bans on human rights activists.

Courtesy of ALQST

Mr. David L. Calhoun
President and CEO, The Boeing Company
P. O. Box 3707, Seattle 
Washington 98124

23 March 2023 

Dear Mr. Calhoun, 

We, the undersigned organisations, call on The Boeing Company to take a principled stand on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, one of your biggest customers, and specifically to urge the Saudi authorities to lift the travel bans they have imposed on numerous peaceful dissidents, rights advocates and their family members. Banning citizens from travelling abroad can have a devastating impact on their careers, family life and mental health, separating siblings, parents and children, and husbands and wives.

On 14 March, Saudi Arabia announced two agreements to purchase up to 121 Boeing 787 Dreamliners for Riyadh Air, a new airline launched by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, and Saudia, the state-owned carrier. Together, the agreements are the fifth largest commercial order by value in Boeing’s history.

The purchase is part of Vision2030, a plan to diversify the Saudi economy and make it less dependent on oil revenues. Yet while the kingdom under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to open up to international mass tourism, it does not extend the same liberty to travel to many of its own citizens. In fact the Saudi authorities severely restrict the right to free movement of the country’s human rights defenders, political opponents and their families, through the use of travel bans.

As well as placing travel bans on individuals released from prison, usually as part of their judicial sentences, the Saudi authorities routinely impose arbitrary travel bans on family members of prisoners of conscience in a form of collective punishment. Such travel bans can be issued without due process, without specifying a reason, and without even notifying those affected until they try to travel outside the country. 

Take, for example, the family of Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi woman human rights defender who tirelessly campaigned for the abolition of the male guardianship system until her arrest in 2018. It took until December 2021 for her family to receive official confirmation that they were under an arbitrary travel ban, and they have still not been given a specific reason. The ban includes her parents and siblings based in Saudi Arabia, but they only found out about it when attempting to travel abroad.

“It is so painful to know that my family is targeted for being the relatives of Loujain. I haven’t seen them in over five years because of an illegal travel ban imposed on them. Living with the constant fear of their potential arrest is heavy and exhausting – these travel bans should be lifted and all families reunited.” – Lina Alhathloul, sister of Loujain and Head of Monitoring and Advocacy at ALQST. 

Similarly targeted are 19 members of the immediate family, including children, of cleric Salman al-Odah, one of Saudi Arabia’s leading proponents of political reform and human rights, detained since September 2017 because of a pro-peace tweet. The travel ban was issued at the time of al-Odah’s arrest but they were not told why it had been imposed, and indeed only found out about it when several family members attempted to leave the country.

The Saudi government’s practices stand in stark contrast with Boeing’s public commitment to the protection and advancement of human rights in its worldwide operations, and its pledge that “in everything we do and in all aspects of our business, we will... hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards”.  The Boeing Company should therefore use the position afforded by its current business dealings with Saudi Arabia to confront the authorities about the above mentioned injustices and rights abuses.

And so we, the undersigned organisations, call on Boeing to take a principled stand on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, and specifically to urge the Saudi authorities both publicly and privately to respect the right to free movement and lift their devastating travel bans on peaceful dissidents, rights advocates and their family members.


  1. ALQST for Human Rights
  2. Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
  3. European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR)
  4. FairSquare
  5. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  6. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  7. MENA Rights Group
  8. Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation

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