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'Show trials' of women activists resumes in Saudi Arabia

French Amnesty activists stage a protest against the ongoing detention of the activists [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 March, 2019

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Three dozen countries, including all 28 members of the European Union, have called on Saudi Arabia to release the dozen women's rights activists held in detention.

Saudi women's rights activists, who've been detained in the kingdom for ten months, are expected to appear before a judge for their second court session amid strong international criticism.

Three dozen countries - including all 28 members of the European Union - have called on the kingdom to release the activists held on charges related to human rights work and contact with foreign journalists, Reuters reported.

Western diplomats and media were barred from witnessing the highly secretive court proceedings.

Nine US Senators last week wrote a public letter to King Salman calling for the activists to be released.

Prominent activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Youssef and Eman al-Nafjan will be among those who expected to attend Riyadh's criminal court.

Several people with knowledge of the cases say the charges for the nearly dozen women relate to their efforts to promote women's rights and sharing information with accredited foreign reporters, diplomats and human rights groups.

Hathloul's brother told members of Congress the charges against her include communicating with foreign journalists in Saudi Arabia and attempting to apply for a job at the United Nations, Reuters reported.

Human Rights Watch said the women were indicted after establishing contact with fully accredited international journalists based in the kingdom as well as foreign diplomats and international human rights organisations.

UK-based Saudi rights activist Yahya Assiri, commenting on the first trials, said the charges "had nothing to do with the law" and that the proceedings could be considered a show trial.

Earlier this month, the Saudi public prosecutor said the activists had been accused of "coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social harmony of the kingdom".

The women were initially expected to appear for their first trial in a court set up to handle terror-related cases.

But just hours before their first court appearance, their relatives said they were informed the trial had been shifted to the criminal court, without being told why.

The move has triggered speculation the trial could pave the way for the release of the women after the crackdown sparked international criticism against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de-facto ruler.

The women were arrested in May and June 2018 in a sweeping crackdown on campaigners - just as the government announced it was lifting a decades-long ban on women drivers as part of the crown prince's so-called modernising reforms.

Those detained include Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at Riyadh's King Saud University, and Loujain al-Hathloul - who was held in 2014 for more than 70 days for attempting to drive from neighbouring UAE to Saudi Arabia.

The detained activists held in Dhahban prison have faced sexual harassment and torture during interrogation, Amnesty International reported in November.

Amnesty cited three separate testimonies, repeated electrocution and flogging, leaving some of them unable to stand or walk.

Saudi Arabia has also faced global outrage over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

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