On 13 March, Loujain Al-Hathloul’s case has been transferred from the Specialized Criminal Court to the Criminal Court (specialized on counter-terrorism measures) for trial. As stated by a tweet of Al-Hathloul’s brother, Walid Al-Hathloul, the judgment will be held in an undetermined period.
Loujain Al-Hathloul is a prominent Saudi woman human rights defender and was one of the leaders of the right to drive campaign. On 1 December 2014, she was arrested and jailed for 73 days after crossing the border by car from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia on charges linked on violating the female driving ban in the Kingdom. She was in possession of an UAE driving licence but it was not accepted by Saudi officers. Moreover, in September 2016, along with 14,000 others, al-Hathloul signed a petition addressed to King Salman asking the substantial abolition of male guardianship system.
Currently, Loujain Al-Hathloul is detained in al-Ha’ir Prison, as referred by her brother, and waits for her process to be tried by the Criminal Court. Ms. Loujain, since June 2018, has been suffering ill-treatments and torture techniques, used specifically to violently pounce her. These inhuman treatments consisted on beatings, electric shocks and even waterboarding, an unacceptable situation openly denounced by the NGO Americans for Democracy & Human rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) in a Joint Statement along with other collaborative groups. Dozens of women’s rights activists continue to be wrongfully detained solely for demanding an end to the obsolete male guardianship system and other gender-based discriminations.
Despite the claims by the Saudi Public Prosecution, Loujain Al-Hathloul and her colleagues were never informed about the arrest warrant. During the first three months of detention some activists were held incommunicado with no access to their families or lawyers. They were also not allowed the right to access an attorney to represent them during the investigation. For the first time ever, 36 States, including all members of the European Union, called on Saudi Arabia at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019 to immediately and unconditionally release women’s human rights defenders who are being detained for exercising their fundamental rights.
The trial against Loujain Al-Hathloul, and on other women’s human rights defenders, evidently demonstrates that the Saudi authorities view the demands of gender equality as a criminal and “terrorist” activity. This is a dangerous and biased strategy that matches the societal role of women’s rights activists to fundamentalist terrorists. Saudi authorities lack adequate policies at every political stage and degree, no public space is given to peaceful activism, demonstrations and political dialogues, including those calling for equality and advancing women’s rights in the country.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) welcomes the Joint Statement and the striving activism of Saudi women defenders. We are profoundly saddened for the recent news on the delayed trial, and especially for the judicial transfer to the Criminal Court. Hoping that the international pressure of the 36 States will turn positively the events, we stand always together with all suffering and persecuted activists.