Loujain al Hathloul: Activist who demanded rights for Saudi women to face trial
A female activist detained in Saudi Arabia for 10 months will appear in court on Wednesday after being “forced” to sign a request to be pardoned.
Loujain al Hathloul is one of nearly a dozen activists detained in the kingdom since last year.
She campaigned for women to drive in Saudi Arabia and protested against the system of male guardianship, where men control aspects of the lives of female family members – from travel and jobs to marriage.
Ms al Hathloul and the other detainees have reported being subject to violent and mental torture, as well as sexual abuse while in detention. Saudi authorities deny this.
Her brother Walid tweeted that she would be “having her first trial session next Wednesday at 8am at the specialised court in Riyadh” – adding this is the court that deals with terrorism cases.
He claimed she is not being allowed a lawyer and has not been told what charges she faces.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr al Hathloul said he and his family are still in the dark about much of the detail ahead of Wednesday’s trial.
He said: “We are trying to understand the charges. We don’t know yet if the other women will be included, she did not mention that. We don’t know if my parents are going to be allowed to attend the session.”
Mr al Hathloul confirmed that his sister has signed a request to be pardoned. He said: “She was basically forced to do that.
“The interrogator came in, showed her the form of the royal pardon and they asked her to sign it… she asked to call my parents and they did not allow her to do that.
“They had like a negotiation for about an hour… at the end of the day she signed it. After that they changed the furniture in her room so we took that as a positive sign.”
Mr al Hathloul says he understands they upgraded the chair and bed in his sister’s room.
When Ms al Hathloul called to tell her family about the date, her brother said she did not express emotion but the family have some concerns about the setup of the court hearing.
“The fact she has been taken to terrorism court is worrying,” he said.
The Saudi public prosecutor’s office said earlier this month it had completed its investigations into the detainees and was preparing their trials.
The authorities have claimed the activists are, in fact, traitors and are being held on suspicion of harming the country’s interests and offering support for hostile elements abroad.
Sky News understands the Foreign Office is monitoring the situation.
On Thursday, representatives of Saudi Arabia are due to respond to recommendations on human rights in the country, made by the United Nations.
The kingdom will either accept or rebuff those recommendations and will then explain its reasons for doing so, after which other countries and organisations will have an opportunity to reply.
No further recommendations would be made until the next scheduled Universal Periodic Review.
Last week, three dozen countries – including all 28 EU members – called on the kingdom to release the activists.
Scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s conduct has been tougher than in recent years following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Sky News has approached Saudi Arabia’s ministry of justice for a comment.
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