'Show trial' of Saudi women activists begins in Riyadh

'Show trial' of Saudi women activists begins in Riyadh
The trial of ten Saudi women activists began on Wednesday, with many slamming it as a show trial over the lack of legal representation and reports of torture and harassment.
2 min read
13 March, 2019
French Amnesty activists stage a protest against the women activists' detention [Getty]
Ten Saudi women detained last year in a sweeping crackdown on activists appeared in court on Wednesday, an official said, intensifying scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record.

Prominent activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Hatoon al-Fassi and Aziza al-Yousef were among those who attended Riyadh's criminal court after being held for nearly a year without charge.

The women's trial was changed at the last minute to the Riyadh's criminal court rather than the specialised court, according to Loujain al-Hathoul's brother Walid. He said the State Security informed them of the change but gave no reason.

The Specialised Court deals with terrorism-related cases, but often also used to try political prisoners.

According to Amnesty International and the women's relatives, the women have not had access to legal cousel during their detention.

The women would hear the charges raised against them ahead of a trial, court president Ibrahim al-Sayari, told reporters and western diplomats - who were not allowed to attend the first hearing of the trial.

Family members of the women, some of whom allegedly faced torture and sexual harassment during interrogation, were permitted to enter the court.

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

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.

Most were accused of undermining security and aiding enemies of the state. Some were later released.

Hathloul was one of the activists who faced sexual harassment and torture during interrogation, according to her family and rights groups.

The Saudi government continues to reject such allegations.

Amnesty International and Hathloul's family feared on Tuesday the women's rights activist would be charged with terrorism.

Hathloul was held for more than 70 days in 2014 for attempting to drive from neighbouring United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia.

The crackdown has ramped up international criticism of Saudi Arabia, which has faced global outrage over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

Last week, 36 nations condemned Saudi Arabia over the murder, in a rare censure of the wealthy oil-rich kingdom at the UN Human Rights Council.

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab