Saudi Arabia begins trial of WHRDs

Several Saudi women human rights defenders stood trial on March 13 for the first time. They have been detained for the past 10 months.

WHRDs Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Hatoon Al-Fassi were among around 10 women appearing before the criminal court, in addition to Nouf Abdulaziz who didn’t attend the trial. 8 hours before the trial, Loujain al-Hathloul’s family was informed that she was to appear before the criminal court instead of the Specialized Criminal court which deals with terrorism suspects.

Women human rights defenders who were arrested in last year’s crackdown have been tortured, sexually harassed, intimidated, and targeted by smearing campaigns. The Saudi Crown Prince has claimed he is leading reforms to improve the situation of Saudi women, while at the same time the authorities are detaining and torturing women who have called for the same reforms for Saudi women, including the right to drive.

It was reported that the prosecution charged the WHRDs with crimes related to the country’s cybercrime law. The prosecution is also asking the judge to impose discretionary punishments against WHRDs to intimidate other dissidents. The next hearing will be on the 27th of March.

Despite claims by the Saudi Public Prosecution that all women detainees have their legal rights upheld, WHRDs were not informed about the arrest warrant. Some were detained incommunicado with no access to their families or lawyers during the first three months of their detention. They were also not allowed the right to access an attorney to represent them during the investigation, which ended in early March.

Three dozen countries, including all members of the European union, called on Saudi Arabia at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019 to immediately and unconditionally release women human rights defenders who are being detained for exercising their fundamental rights. However, Saudi government is still portraying the WHRDs as traitors.

On March 14, Saudi Arabia reaffirmed its support to the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. If that is true, then Saudi Arabia must unconditionally & promptly implement the endorsed recommendations, including the release of all women human rights defenders, or else it will be another exercise in empty rhetoric.