Saudi Arabia resumes trial of female activists in wake of criticism from West – National

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A Saudi court docket resumed on Wednesday the trial of distinguished girls activists going through fees associated to their human rights work and contacts with overseas journalists and diplomats, in a case that has sharpened Western criticism of the dominion.

The ladies, together with rights campaigner Loujain al-Hathloul, college professor Hatoon al-Fassi and blogger Eman al-Nafjan, have been anticipated to answer fees together with some that rights teams say fall beneath an article of the dominion’s cybercrime regulation stipulating jail sentences of as much as 5 years.

READ MORE: Jailed Saudi girls activists stand trial on March 13, diplomats barred from getting into court docket

Western diplomats and media, together with Reuters, have been denied entry to the listening to and escorted from the constructing, regardless of petitioning the authorities to attend amid international scrutiny of the case.

Three dozen nations, together with all 28 EU members, Canada and Australia, have known as on Riyadh to free the activists. British Overseas Secretary Jeremy Hunt and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo each raised the difficulty throughout current visits to Riyadh.

9 distinguished U.S. senators wrote a public letter final week asking King Salman for the quick and unconditional launch of prisoners held on “doubtful fees associated to their activism,” citing most of the girls at present on trial.

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It stays to be seen if Riyadh will bend to worldwide stress — with the ladies probably receiving acquittals or pardons — or pursue harsh sentences in a case critics say has revealed the boundaries of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s guarantees to modernize Saudi Arabia.

The activists have been detained weeks earlier than a ban on girls driving vehicles within the conservative kingdom was lifted final June beneath efforts to calm down social guidelines and enhance the economic system.

Dozens of different activists, intellectuals and clerics have been arrested individually previously two years in an obvious bid to stamp out doable opposition.

The crown prince has courted the West to help formidable financial and social reforms, however his fame was tarnished when Saudi brokers killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi final October on the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, sparking a global furore.


Sending a message

The costs in opposition to Hathloul embody speaking with 15 to 20 overseas journalists in Saudi Arabia, making an attempt to use for a job on the United Nations, and attending digital privateness coaching, her brother informed members of Congress this month.

The Saudi public prosecutor mentioned final Might that the ladies, together with a number of males, had been arrested on suspicion of harming Saudi pursuits and providing help to hostile components overseas. State-backed media labeled a few of them as traitors and “brokers of embassies,” irritating Western allies.

Activists and diplomats have speculated that will have been meant as a message to activists to not push calls for out of sync with the federal government’s personal agenda, however the crown prince has denied that, accusing the ladies of working for Qatari and Iranian intelligence.

Rights teams say among the girls have been held in solitary confinement and subjected to mistreatment and torture, together with electrical shocks, flogging and sexual assault. Saudiofficers have denied these allegations.

The case was apparently moved from a high-security terrorism tribunal to the Riyadh legal court docket on the final minute with out rationalization, probably signaling a extra lenient dealing with of the circumstances after months of lobbying by Western governments.

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