Trial of detained Saudi women's activist postponed in Riyadh

A court hearing for Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is delayed for a week.

al-monitor Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated portrait by a Dutch photographer.  Photo by Marieke Wijntjes/via REUTERS.

Mar 11, 2020

The latest hearing in the trial of outspoken Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has been postponed until next week, her sister said on Twitter.  

Nearly two years into her detention, Hathloul was due in a Riyadh court today for what Amnesty International has called a “sham trial.” Hathloul’s sister Lina al-Hathloul said no reason was given for the delay in court proceedings until March 18.

Hathloul and at least 12 other women were imprisoned in May 2018 over their activism, including campaigning for women’s driving rights and pushing to end male guardianship in the country.  

"The very existence of this sham trial pulls the veil off of the authorities' so-called push for reforms in the kingdom. How can they initiate change in the country when the very women who fought for these reforms are still being punished for it?" Lynn Maalouf, the Middle East research director for Amnesty International, said in a statement published Monday.

A prominent women’s rights activist, Hathloul has been arrested several times before. In 2014, she spent more than 70 days in prison after she livestreamed herself attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. 

Then in May 2018, Hathloul was detained as part of a sweeping crackdown on right-to-drive activists. A month later, Saudi Arabia lifted the world’s only ban on women driving. 

“What is unfortunate is that we are seeing some positive progress in Saudi Arabia for the same issues that we believe that they are detained for,” Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a Middle East and North Africa consultant at Equality Now, told Al-Monitor.

“We really call on the Saudi government to unconditionally release these women from prison,” Abu-Dayyeh said.   

According to her family, Hathloul has at various times been held in solidarity confinement and tortured with waterboarding, electric shocks and sexual harassment. In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, her sister Alia al-Hathloul wrote that during a family visit, Loujain “was shaking uncontrollably, unable to hold her grip, to walk or sit normally.”

In the Times op-ed, Hathloul’s siblings allege that Saud al-Qahtani, a former close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, personally supervised her torture and threatened to rape and kill Hathloul. The Saudi government denies all accusations of torture. 

Amnesty International and other rights groups have called on Saudi Arabia to drop the charges against Hathloul and investigate her treatment in detention.