You are here: Home » PTI Stories » National » News
Business Standard

Saudi women activists on trial after a year in detention

AFP  |  Riyadh 

Ten Saudi women appeared in for the first time since being detained last year in a sweeping crackdown on activists, ratcheting up scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record.

The trial of the women, who have been held for nearly a year without charge, comes as seeks to placate international criticism over last year's brutal murder of insider-turned-critic

Prominent activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Hatoon al-Fassi, and were among those who attended Riyadh's criminal court, where they heard charges raised against them, court said.

members of the women -- some of whom allegedly faced torture and sexual harassment during interrogation -- were permitted to attend the opening court session, but reporters and western diplomats were barred from entering.

The charges against the women were not immediately disclosed to the public.

"It now seems that the authorities will charge the women's rights activists, after keeping them in detention for nearly one year without any access to lawyers, and where they faced torture, ill treatment and sexual harassment," said International's Middle

"The authorities are now treating defending women's rights as a crime, which is a dangerous escalation in the country and their crackdown on human rights activism," Hadid told AFP.

Sayari said the women detainees had been granted access to independent lawyers, a claim previously contested by several members.

More than a dozen activists were arrested in May last year, just a month before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on women drivers. Some were subsequently released.

The detained activists have been accused of "coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social harmony of the kingdom", the said earlier this month. have previously branded them as traitors and "agents of embassies".

said the trial and "alleged mistreatment" of the women "is yet another sign of escalating repression in Saudi Arabia".

"Authorities should immediately halt these unfair proceedings and release any activist charged solely based on their peaceful activism," he told AFP.

and the of Hathloul, who was among the detainees who allegedly faced sexual harassment and torture during interrogation, had voiced fears that the women would be charged with terrorism.

The trial was expected to take place at Riyadh's Specialised Criminal Court, established to handle terrorism-related cases but widely used to try political prisoners.

But relatives of the detained women said on Wednesday they received a call from authorities at midnight, informing them the trial had been shifted to the criminal court. No reason was given.

The move has triggered speculation that the activists could be released under the cover of a judicial process, after the crackdown prompted scathing criticism against Crown

"Terrorism charges are very hard politically for the to go soft on, but criminal charges may open the door for an acquittal," Bessma Momani, a at Canada's University of Waterloo, said.

"The Saudis need to change the page on this file badly -- its economy and success of its reform drive hinges on removing the negative perceptions that the arrests of these women has caused," she told AFP.

Mohammed's much-trumpeted drive to modernise the conservative kingdom has been dented by the jailing of female activists who had long campaigned for the right to drive.

The detentions were part of a deeper crackdown by Saudi authorities on activists, clerics and critics in recent years, in what was widely seen as a stamping out of political dissent.

It has ramped up international criticism of Saudi Arabia, which has faced global outrage over Khashoggi's murder in the last October.

Last week, 36 nations condemned over the murder, in a rare censure of the at the

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, March 13 2019. 22:50 IST
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU