Trial of hunger-striking Saudi activist al-Hathloul to resume

Relatives of Loujain al-Hathloul have said the jailed Saudi activist is due in court on Wednesday, almost a month after she went on hunger strike.

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.

The 31-year-old’s trial began in March 2019, but campaigners and her family said court sessions are arbitrarily announced and closed to diplomats and journalists.

“We were just announced that @LoujainHathloul has a trial tomorrow,” the activist’s sister, Lina al-Hathloul, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

There was no immediate comment by Saudi authorities.

“The only just outcome for this trial would be the immediate and unconditional release of Loujain al-Hathloul,” said Lynn Maalouf, from Amnesty International.

“She is not a criminal – she is a human rights defender who is being punished simply for daring to advocate for change.”

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 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.

Al-Hathloul has been refusing food in prison since October 26 to demand regular contact with her family, her siblings said, voicing concern over her frail health.

For months, they said, the activist has been permitted only limited contact with her family.

A UN women’s rights committee called for her “immediate” release earlier this month, saying that al-Hathloul’s deteriorating health was “deeply alarming”.

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