Seven European human rights ambassadors criticized Saudi Arabia on Sunday over the continued detention of at least five women’s rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, whose case has been referred to a special court for terrorism offenses.
© Courtesy of Lina al-Hathloul
Loujain al-Hathloul, right, is pictured with her sister Lina al-Hathloul around five months before her arrest in May 2018.
Hathloul appeared in a Saudi court on Wednesday, as her trial was scheduled to start after 900 days in pre-trial detention.
The court instead referred the case to the Specialized Criminal Court for terrorism and national security cases, according to a statement from her family and supporters, sent to CNN.
The case of another women’s rights activist, Samar Badawi, has also been referred to the special court. Three others — Nassima al-Sada, Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani — remain in detention, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
“We remain deeply concerned by the continued detention of at least five women’s right activists in Saudi Arabia. We regret that the cases of Loujain Al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi have now been referred to the Special Criminal Court for terrorism and national security cases,” human rights ambassadors for the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Estonia, Luxembourg and Finland said in a statement.
Hathloul, 31, was jailed in May 2018 during a sweep that targeted prominent opponents of the kingdom’s former law barring women from driving. The crackdown happened just weeks before the ban was lifted, casting doubt on a reform agenda put forward by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The court she appeared in on Wednesday said it would investigate Hathloul’s allegations of torture in prison, according to the family’s statement. Saudi authorities have repeatedly denied allegations of torture and sexual abuse in their prisons. A new trial date hasn’t been announced yet.
Badawi had also campaigned against the driving ban and against the imprisonment of her former husband, rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, as well as her brother, blogger Raif Badawi.
“Peaceful activism, and advocating for women’s rights is not a crime. Human rights defenders can be a strong partner for governments in addressing concerns within society,” the ambassadors said.
“We join the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteurs and Treaty Bodies in reiterating our call for the release of all political detainees, including the women’s rights activists.”
CNN has reached out to the Saudi government for a response.
In an interview with CNN’s Nic Robertson earlier this month, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Jubeir said Hathloul’s case “was up to the courts” and that “she’s on trial for matters related to national security.”
An Amnesty International representative for the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf, said the Specialized Criminal Court was “an institution used to silence dissent and notorious for issuing lengthy prison sentences following seriously flawed trials.”
“This is yet another sign that Saudi Arabia’s claims of reform on human rights are a farce,” Maalouf said.
In a six-page charge sheet for Hathloul’s case, seen by