Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul’s trial moved to terror court

Women’s rights defender was arrested in May 2018 weeks before the lifting of a decades-long ban on female drivers.

Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture [File: Marieke Wijntjes/Handout/Reuters]

Saudi Arabia has moved the trial of prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to a court for terror-related crimes, according to her family.

Al-Hathloul, a prominent women’s rights activist, was arrested along with about a dozen other female activists in May 2018, just weeks before Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-old ban on female drivers. She went on a hunger strike in October for several weeks to protest against her prison conditions.

The jailed activist, who appeared in court on Wednesday, “looked weak” and “her body was shaking uncontrollably and that her voice was faint and shaky”, her sister, Lina al-Hathloul, said in a Twitter post.


Wednesday’s session resulted in her case being transferred for “lack of jurisdiction” by the criminal court, which has been handling the case since March 2019.

“It’s incomprehensible that after such a long time that they just now realise that the court is not specialised. Loujain still does not have any evidence of the accusation. It will be nearly now three years that she has remained in pre-trial detention and should be released,” Lina al-Hathloul said.

‘Not a criminal’

The United Kingdom-based human rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday said al-Hathloul should be freed “immediately and unconditionally”.

“Today the world will be watching. If Saudi Arabia wants to match rhetoric of progress with actions, it should #FreeLoujain immediately and unconditionally,” the group posted on Twitter.

Amnesty’s Gulf branch reported that al-Hathloul had ended her hunger strike two weeks after starting it.

“She was being woken up by the guards every two hours, day and night, as a brutal tactic to break her,” Amnesty said on Twitter. “Yet, she is far from broken.”

Some of the activists arrested with al-Hathloul have been provisionally released, while others remain in detention amid what campaigners have called “opaque” court trials for charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and human rights groups.

The detained activists also demanded an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions. Some rules have been eased but that system is yet to be removed.

The pro-government Saudi media has branded al-Hathloul and others as “traitors”, and her family has alleged she experienced sexual harassment and torture in detention, including electric shocks and waterboarding.

Saudi authorities have strongly denied the charges.

The detention of female activists has cast a spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom, which has also faced intense global criticism over the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies