These Saudi activists, who have been jailed since May for their actions in favor of women’s rights, have told their judges that they have been tortured.
Three of the 11 human rights activists were released on Thursday after spending 10 months in Saudi regime jails. The news comes after the resumption of their trial, which opened on March 13 at the criminal court in Riyadh. As in the first session, only the families of these women were able to attend Wednesday’s hearing, while Western journalists and diplomats were escorted to the exit. The liberated activists are academics Rokaya Mohareb and Aziza al-Youssef, as well as blogger Eman al-Nafjan. However, they will have to go to court at the next hearing next Wednesday, until the final judgment. According to the human rights organization ALQSR, the eight other activists will be released temporarily Sunday.
Actor Loujain al-Hathloul and university professor Hatoon al-Fassi are also among the defendants. During the trial, several of these women described to the judges the abuse they suffered in prison. At least three of these women, including Ms. al-Hathoul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to torture and sexual assault. They also suffered whiplash and electric shocks, their relatives reported. According to al-Hathloul’s family, the former right-hand man of Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman and former deputy director of the National Intelligence Agency, Saud al-Qahtani, was present during some of the torture sessions and threatened the government. activist of rape and death. Charges deemed unfounded by the Saudi prosecutor’s office.
These women’s rights activists are among dozens of activists arrested by the authorities in early May 2018, weeks before the ultra-conservative kingdom lifted the ban on Saudi women driving. At the time of their arrest, they were accused by the Attorney General of harming the interests of the country and assisting the “enemies of the state”. But the Saudi court detained them for months without charge, and without allowing them to consult a lawyer. Before the trial began, court president Ibrahim al-Sayari had only indicated the names of these activists, without specifying the charges against them. These women are in fact being prosecuted for having been in contact with foreign journalists and diplomats, as well as with activists and international organizations such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch.
The call of 36 countries to release them
In October, Mohammed Ben Salman had told the Bloomberg agency that the activists worked with foreign secret services, including Qatari and Iranian. But according to Human Rights Watch reports, the fact sheets that were accessed do not mention any link with foreign intelligence agencies. “For nearly a year, the pro-government Saudi media have accused these women’s rights heroes of” agents from abroad. “In fact, the current charges against them are simply a list of their fight for women’s rights, “said Michael Page, director of the Middle East Division of Human Rights Watch.
“If sharing information about women’s rights with journalists and diplomats is illegal, then the majority of Saudi leaders would be in jail right now. “
Michael Page, Director of the Middle East Division of Human Rights Watch.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 29, has been defending for years the right of women to drive. She had already been detained for 73 days in 2014 after attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the UAE. According to her brother, she is accused of having contacted a score of foreign journalists present in her country, and of having tried to apply for a post at the UN. Activists are also being prosecuted for violating Article 6 of the Cybercrime Law. This law provides for five years in prison and about 700,000 euros in case of dissemination of information considered contrary to religious and moral values, or representing a danger to public order. “If sharing information about women’s rights with journalists and diplomats is illegal, then the majority of Saudi leaders would be in jail now,” said Michael Page.
At the time of their arrest, only Canada was truly indignant at the fate of these activists, with the majority of Western countries preferring to turn a blind eye. But since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, international pressure has increased on the Gulf country. Thirty-six countries, including all 28 EU member states, have called on Saudi Arabia to release activists. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his British counterpart Jeremy Hunt said they had discussed the issue with the Saudi authorities during recent visits. In an open letter, nine US senators last week asked Prince Salman to immediately and unconditionally release these prisoners for “dubious charges related to their activism.” Sign of the possible impact of these pressures, the trial, originally planned for the terrorist tribunal in Riyadh, had been transferred at the last minute to the criminal court of the Saudi capital.