Saudi women's rights activists stand trial

Loujain Al-Hathloul, who called for an end to the driving ban, is among some 10 women appearing in court in Riyadh.
Loujain Al-Hathloul, who called for an end to the driving ban, is among some 10 women appearing in court in Riyadh.

RIYADH • Several Saudi Arabian women's rights activists stood trial yesterday for the first time since a group of them were detained last year in a case that has intensified scrutiny of Riyadh's human rights record after the murder of a prominent journalist.

Loujain Al-Hathloul, Aziza Al-Yousef, Eman Al-Nafjan and Hatoon Al-Fassi are among some 10 women appearing before the Criminal Court in the capital, Riyadh, where charges will be presented against them, court president Ibrahim Al-Sayari said.

He was speaking to reporters and diplomats, who were barred from attending the session.

The women are among about a dozen prominent activists who were arrested last May in the weeks before a ban on women driving cars in the conservative kingdom was lifted. State-backed media labelled them as traitors and "agents of embassies", unnerving foreign diplomats in its key ally, the United States.

Hathloul's brother tweeted late on Tuesday that the family had been informed that the trial had been moved to the Criminal Court from the Specialised Criminal Court, which was set up to try terrorism cases but is often used for political offences. It was not clear what was behind the decision.

Activists say some of them, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement and subjected to torture, including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault.

Saudi officials have denied those allegations.

Hathloul, who had advocated an end to the driving ban and the kingdom's male guardianship system, was previously detained twice.

Nafjan and Yousef participated in a protest against the driving ban in 2013.

Activists and diplomats have speculated that the arrests may have been aimed at appeasing conservative elements opposed to social reforms pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2019, with the headline 'Saudi women's rights activists stand trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe