Saudi Arabia puts women's rights activists on trial

A number of women’s rights activists have gone on trial in Saudi Arabia in a case that has raised questions about the kingdom’s human rights record.

The first activists were detained last May, shortly before the lifting of a ban on women driving, for which many of them had campaigned.

Charges they face are said to include supporting “hostile elements” and could carry long prison sentences.

Demands for the women’s release have come from around the world.

Last week more than 30 countries at the UN Human Rights Council criticised Saudi Arabia for detaining the women.

Scrutiny of human rights in the kingdom has intensified since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

As many as 10 women were expected to appear at the criminal court in Riyadh on Wednesday, including prominent campaigners Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Hatoon al-Fassi.

Journalists and diplomats are not allowed to attend the hearing.

‘Court switch’

The public prosecutor’s office has not specified the charges against them, but said they were suspected of undertaking “co-ordinated and organised activities… that aim to undermine the kingdom’s security, stability and national unity”.

On Tuesday, Ms Hathloul’s brother said the trial had been switched to the criminal court from the Specialized Criminal Court, which was set up to try terrorism cases. The reason for the decision was not clear.

The Gulf Centre…

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