Saudi Arabia: Women's rights campaigner Loujain al-Hathloul due in court

Loujain al-Hathloul, the prominent Saudi Arabian women’s rights defender who has been detained for almost two years, is due to appear in court in Riyadh this week (Wednesday 11 March).

Al-Hathloul is being tried on a variety of charges linked to her peaceful human rights activities, including campaigning for women’s right to drive and ending the male guardianship system. She is at risk of being sentenced to a lengthy prison term.

In prison, Loujain has suffered torture, sexual abuse and solitary confinement
Lynn Maalouf

“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,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“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?

“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.”

Al-Hathloul’s trial began on 13 March 2019 in the Criminal Court in Riyadh. So far, all of her court sessions have been closed, with diplomats and journalists banned from attending.

Amnesty International is calling for all charges against Loujain al-Hathloul to be dropped, and for her immediate and unconditional release. The organization is further calling on the authorities to allow independent monitors to observe and publicly report on the trials.

Background

Loujain al-Hathloul, along with a number of prominent Saudi women’s human rights defenders and activists, was arrested in May 2018. These courageous activists had been peacefully advocating for the right of women to drive, an end to the male guardianship system, and for justice and equality.

She was detained on 17 May 2018 and has endured a range of human rights violations while in prison, including torture, sexual abuse and other forms of ill-treatment. For the first three months of her detention, Loujain was held incommunicado with no access to her family and lawyer. Since January 2020, she has also been subjected to spells in solitary confinement.

Today, 13 women’s rights activists remain on trial facing prosecution for their human rights activism. Of the 13, five remain in detention - including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Naseema al-Sada, Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani.

While the eight other activists have been temporarily released, they remain at risk of being sentenced to prison under anti-cybercrime legislation for their human rights work.