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  • Demonstrators from Amnesty International hold placards outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy on International Women

    Demonstrators from Amnesty International hold placards outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy on International Women's day in Paris, France, March 8, 2019 | Photo: Reuters

Published 13 March 2019

Ten Saudi Arabian women stood trial in Riyadh Wednesday for the first time since they were detained last year.

Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, and Hatoon Al-Fassi were among the women appearing before the criminal court in the capital of Saudi Arabia where charges were presented against them. The activists, a majority of whom are prominent figures in the women's right movement in the country, were detained last May.

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Al-Hathloul, who had promoted an end to the driving ban, was previously detained twice. Al-Nafjan and al-Yousef participated in a protest against the driving ban in 2013. Al-Yousef also authored a petition, which al-Nafjan and al-Hathloul signed in 2016, requesting an end to male guardianship, the act of requiring women to obtain the consent of a male relative for any major life choices.

Charges they face are said to include supporting "hostile elements" and could carry long prison sentences. Indeed, the public prosecutor said that five men and four women were being held on suspicion of harming the country's interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad. State-backed media labeled them as traitors and "agents of embassies," Middle East Eye (MEE) media reported.

Nevertheless, according to Amnesty International, the kingdom's public prosecuter has still not specified the charges. 

Last week, at the U.N. Human Rights Council, 36 countries urged Saudi Arabia to release the detained activists and expressed "significant concerns about reports of continuing arrests and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."  They also asked the country to cooperate with a U.N.-led probe into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

Activists say some of the detainees were subjected to mistreatment and torture, including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual assault and harassment. The Saudi deputy public prosecutor has said the allegations are "false".

The growing repression and violations of human rights in Saudi Arabia appear while the Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is intensifying his international public relations campaign and courting the West to support his social reforms even so his reputation was tarnished after Saudi agents killed Khashoggi last October at the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.


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