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Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to appear before 'sham trial' on Wednesday Open in fullscreen

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Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to appear before 'sham trial' on Wednesday

Hathloul and other rights activists have allegedly faced torture in prison [Twitter]

Date of publication: 10 March, 2020

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Human rights organisations have decried the 'bogus' charges against Hathloul and 12 other women's rights activists.
Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi women's rights campaigner who has been detained for almost two years, is due to appear in court on Wednesday this week, Amnesty International said.

Hathloul, alongside another 12 women activists, faces what Amnesty has called "bogus" charges over her activities, including campaigning for women's right to drive in the ultraconservative kingdom.

She was arrested in 2018 just weeks before Saudi Arabia repealed its long-standing ban on women drivers, but she did not appear before a Riyadh court until March last year. Proceedings so far have been closed, with diplomats and journalists barred from attending.

"The very existence of this sham trial pulls the veil off of the authorities' so-called push for reforms in the kingdom. How can they initiate change in the country when the very women who fought for these reforms are still being punished for it?" Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East Research Director, said in a statement.

The charges against Hathloul have not been publicised but are reported to relate to Hathloul and other activists' contact with foreign diplomats, rights groups and journalists.

Read more: Saudi women activists should be honoured, not imprisoned

"It is high time the authorities not only drop these ludicrous charges but also ensure independent and impartial investigations into her treatment in detention, and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. This is the only course of action that would lend some credibility to the authorities' reform drive," Maalouf said. 

Riyadh has removed some restrictions on women over the past year, including loosening male guardians’ ability to prevent women from travelling.

Analysts have lauded the reforms but say male guardians largely retain control. Critics allege the measures are part of a "charade" to present Saudi Arabia as a modern and reformist kingdom despite the continued imprisonment of activists like Hathloul. 

"In prison, Loujain has suffered torture, sexual abuse and solitary confinement -  compounding the fact that she has been deprived of her freedom unjustly for almost two years now," Maalouf said.

Human rights organisations have alleged that Hathloul and other women campaigners have been subjected to torture and sexual harassment, including threats of rape, while in detention.

Hathloul also accused former royal court media advisor Saud al-Qahtani of threatening to rape and kill her, according to her family.

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