Middle East

Saudi women activists' trial hearing delayed


Riyadh, Apr 17 (IANS): A court in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday postponed a hearing in the trial of several of the country's prominent women's rights activists detained for "undermining national security", officials said.

The case has attracted widespread international condemnation and is seen as further damaging the reputation of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is under suspicion for his alleged involvement in the murder of his critic and journalist Jamal al-Khashoggi.

These activists were arrested in May 2018 and charged with spying and supporting "hostile elements". They had been campaigning for an end to the country's male guardianship system and for the right to drive, before the ban was lifted last June.

The BBC reported that after these women were arrested, "horrific details" emerged of their alleged mistreatment at the hands of the Saudi authorities.

On Tuesday, Walid al-Hathloul, the brother of one of the activists, Loujain al-Hathloul, told the British broadcaster that his sister was so traumatized by what had happened to her that she wanted to remain in jail, afraid of how her reputation had been unfairly smeared in her absence.

He said that following her arrest, Hathloul had been taken to a secret detention facility near the maximum security prison of Dhahban in Jeddah.

There, she told her family, she was taken down to a basement and subjected to waterboarding and electrocution, according to the BBC.

Activist Hathloul's brother named Saud al-Qahtani, a close confidant of the Saudi Crown Prince, as the man who oversaw her torture, allegedly laughing as he threatened to have her raped and murdered, the report said.

In March the UN's Human Rights Council called for the activists' release and more than 30 countries, including all 28 EU members, signed a statement condemning their prolonged detention.

However, the Saudi government says the detained women enjoy all the rights afforded to them under Saudi law.

But activist Hathloul's brother said everything about his sister's arrest and detention had been shrouded in secrecy and that the entire judicial process lacked transparency.

It was not until November 2018, he said, six months after her arrest, that the family even learned what she was accused of.

The accusations, he said, included "applying for a job at the UN and being in contact with human rights

organisations". He added that the prosecution had not produced any evidence to support its allegation of spying.

The next stage expected in the trial of Loujain al-Hathloul and her co-defendants is the judge's response to their defence, which has already been submitted.

Activist Hathloul's brother said that his family are deeply worried about what would happen next, partly due to the lack of transparency.

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