By: Katherine Davis
Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – After being detained over peaceful activism for more than two years, Loujain al-Hathloul now stands trial before Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal court.
The jailed Saudi women’s rights activist, who ignited the movement to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia, has been accused of activities that “undermine the kingdom’s security, stability, and national unity”. Since her arrest, the United Nations, other human rights organizations, and activists have called for the immediate and unconditional release of al-Hathloul as well as many other women human rights defenders across the region.
Al-Hathloul was arrested in March of 2019 while driving in the United Arab Emirates. After her arrest, she was sent to Saudi Arabia and was arrested again in a sweep that targeted ten women’s right-to-drive activists. She and the other women were accused of violating Royal Decree 44a. This violation leaves the women facing terrorism charges that can be punishable by three to twenty years imprisonment. Without warning, al-Hathloul’s trial commenced December 10.
Her brother, Walid al-Hathloul, claims that his sister has not had access to a lawyer and was not aware of the charges against her. Other family members say she has been subjected to electric shocks, whipping, and sexual harassment during her detention.
The Saudi government denies all allegations of torture. A Saudi official told CNN in November, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s judiciary system does not condone, promote, or allow the use of torture. Anyone, whether male or female, being investigated is going through the standard judiciary process led by public prosecution while being held for questions, which does not in any way rely on torture, either physical, sexual, or psychological.”
On December 10, the United Nations released a statement, calling for the immediate release of al-Hathloul. In the statement, Elizabeth Broderick, the chairperson of the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls, commended al-Hathloul for being a dedicated woman human rights defender, “who has greatly contributed to advancing women’s rights in a country where gender discrimination and stereotyping are deeply entrenched in the fabric of society.”
Other organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Free Saudi Activists Coalition, have also called for the immediate release of al-Hathloul. Human Rights Watch urges all countries in the Middle East and North African region to guarantee and protect women’s rights and calls on governments around the world to call for the release of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Lynn Maalouf, said, “the only just outcome for this trial would be the immediate and unconditional release of Loujain al-Hathloul. She is not a criminal – she is a human rights defender who is being punished simply for daring to advocate for change.”
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