SAUDI ARABIA begins trial of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul

Closed trial in ‘terrorism court’ starts more than two years after her imprisonment for peaceful activism.


By Emma Graham-Harrison


The Guardian (10.12.2020) – – Saudi Arabia has put a women’s rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, on trial in a special court set up to handle terrorism cases, more than two years after she was detained over her peaceful activism.


She is accused, along with several other campaigners, of activities that “undermine the kingdom’s security, stability and national unity,” according to the state news agency. The trial began on International Human Rights Day, an irony noted by her family and campaigners.


“Guess what Saudi Arabia does on International Human Rights Day? It sends brave & peaceful activists like Loujain al-Hathloul to their first trial at the ‘terrorism court’, simply for wanting basic human rights,” Amnesty International said on Twitter.


The group has described the specialised criminal court (SCC) where her case is being held as an “instrument of repression”. Its judges have presided over unfair trials and handed down harsh rulings including multiple death sentences “in an effort to silence dissent”, Amnesty said.


Wednesday’s court hearing was not open to the public. It was not clear how long the trial would last or whether other female activists detained at the same time as Hathloul were also finally facing trial.


They were arrested in May 2018, shortly before the government dropped its longstanding ban on women driving. Hathloul in particular had been a prominent face of the grassroots campaign for change, and also opposed the male guardianship system, which makes women second-class citizens.


She has been in jail ever since, awaiting trial. Relatives say she has been tortured, and this year she has been held incommunicado for long stretches of time and been on hunger strike more than once. A UN women’s rights committee recently expressed alarm about her failing health.


UN human rights experts called for all charges to be dropped and for Hathloul to be released immediately.


“We are extremely alarmed to hear that Ms al-Hathloul, who has been in detention for more than two years on spurious charges, is now being tried by a specialised terrorism court for exercising her fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” said Elizabeth Broderick, the chair of the UN working group on discrimination against women and girls.


At a brief hearing in an ordinary court last month, when the case was referred to the terrorism court, relatives said Hathloul looked unwell, shaking and speaking in a weak voice as she read out her four-page defence.


The looming transfer of power in the US to Joe Biden will increase pressure on Riyadh over its human rights record. Donald Trump the and Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, have been close allies, their bond helping blunt international scrutiny of Saudi’s handling of dissent and its bloody intervention in Yemen.


Biden has promised to review US-Saudi relations, including Washington’s support for the Saudi intervention in Yemen. Business ties will continue, however. US dependence on Saudi oil has fallen markedly as a result of domestic shale gas production, but the kingdom’s political stability is still a key US concern.

Photo: Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. Her trial began on International Human Rights Day, an irony noted by her family and campaigners. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images.

Saudi women are speaking up online

Male guardianship, sexual harassment amongst major concerns.


By Hiba Zayadin


HRW (14.04.2020) – – Over the past two weeks, Saudi women have taken to Twitter, using pseudonyms, to share their experiences with sexual harassment, the reasons behind their hesitance to report these abuses to the authorities, and demands for the abolition of the discriminatory male guardianship system.


It is a remarkable show of courage at a time when Saudi authorities – under the de facto rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – have maintained a sweeping campaign of repression that included dismantling and silencing the country’s women’s rights movement. Prominent women’s rights activists like Loujain al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi languish in prison nearly two years since their arrests, while other women since released face travel bans and outstanding trials.


At the same time, Saudi Arabia introduced reforms for which these women had long advocated. Today, Saudi women can drive; those over 21 years old can obtain passports and travel without permission from male guardians; and recently introduced laws are meant to protect them against sexual harassment and employment discrimination.


But, as some of the anonymous Saudi women have revealed on Twitter, the road to equality is long.


Using two Arabic language hashtags which translate to “why I didn’t report it” and “down with remnants of the guardianship system,” Saudi women pointed to persistent elements of the male guardianship system that continue to keep women trapped in abusive situations.


Saudi women complained that if they attempt to flee abuse, they can still be arrested and forcibly returned if their male family members bring a legal claim based on uquq (parental disobedience), inqiyad (submission to a guardian’s authority), or leaving the marital or guardian’s home. They also spoke of how when they report abuse, they are often referred to closed shelters, which they are typically not allowed to leave unless they reconcile with family members or accept an arranged marriage.


The world is being told that Saudi Arabia is modernizing on women’s rights. But the reality is that with no organized women’s rights movement or environment in which women can safely and openly demand their rights, there is little room for further advances. The international community should call for the release of all women’s rights activists, the safeguarding of women’s right to freedom of expression and association, and for the complete abolition of the male guardianship system.

SAUDI ARABIA: Repressive site for Dakar Rally

As Amaury Sport Race proceeds, women activists sit in prison.


HRW (03.01.2020) – – The Amaury Sport Organisation should use its decision to move the Dakar Rally to Saudi Arabia to denounce the persecution of women’s rights advocates in the country, Human Rights Watch, MENA Rights Group, and 11 other international human rights organizations said today. The 2020 Dakar Rally – formerly known as the Paris-Dakar Rally – will begin on January 5, 2020, in Jeddah, and finish on January 17, 2020, 9,000 kilometers later, in Al-Qiddiya.


“The Amaury Sport Organisation and race drivers at the Dakar Rally should speak out about the Saudi government’s mistreatment of women’s rights activists for advocating for the right to drive,” said Minky Worden, global initiatives director at Human Rights Watch. “Fans, media, and race teams shouldn’t be blinded by the rally’s spectacle while Saudi Arabia ‘sports-washes’ the kingdom’s jailing of peaceful critics.”


The Dakar Rally is an annual off-road endurance race organized by the French Amaury Sport Organisation. In April, the company announced that the 2020 rally would be held throughout Saudi Arabia as part of a five-year partnership with its government.


Sponsors, broadcasters, and athletes are affected by sports organizations’ choices to hold major events in countries that violate basic human rights, the groups said. By agreeing to a five-year relationship with Saudi Arabia, the Amaury Sport Organisation should also agree to adopt and carry out a human rights policy that would identify risks and make use of its leverage to promote respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia and across its operations. FIFA, the global football organization, and other major companies have adopted such policies in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.


Since the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, Saudi Arabia has faced increased international criticism over its human rights record – particularly its lack of transparency regarding the investigation of Khashoggi’s murder and its leading role in a military coalition responsible for serious violations of the laws of war in Yemen.


Saudi Arabia has also created one of the most hostile environments for human rights defenders in recent years, arbitrarily detaining dozens of rights advocates. They include Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, and Nouf Abdulaziz, who advocated women’s right to drive and an end to the discriminatory male guardianship system. While some others have been temporarily released, they and the four who remain in detention are still on trial for their peaceful activism. Several activists have alleged that they were tortured in detention, including with electric shocks, flogging, sexual threats, and other ill-treatment.


“More than a dozen women drivers will take part in the Dakar Rally while Saudi women activists languish in jail for promoting the right to drive,” said Inès Osman, director of MENA Rights Group. “Saudi Arabia should not get a free lane because it is hosting a prominent sporting event like the Dakar Rally.”


Human Rights Watch, MENA Rights Group, and various other groups urge Dakar organizers, participants, and official broadcasters to press Saudi authorities to immediately release all detained Saudi women’s rights defenders and drop the charges against them. The Amaury Sport Organisation should engage with human rights advocates and adopt a human rights policy to ensure that its operations do not contribute to human rights violations.


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises outline companies’ duties to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts resulting from business operations. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide that business enterprises have a responsibility to “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities,” “address such impacts when they occur,” and “seek to prevent them.”


“The Amaury Sport Organisation has an opportunity to join other sporting bodies in advancing respect for human rights where they hold events,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Adopting and abiding by a human rights policy will mean avoiding having to endorse a repressive host country’s abusive record.”