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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
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Girls & Women

Activists in Saudi Arabia Could Serve 5 Years in Prison Just for Talking About Women’s Rights


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People around the world risk their lives daily to advocate for equal human rights. To ensure gender equality for all, we must protect freedom of expression. You can join us and take action on this issue here

Ten women’s rights activists went on trial in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, according to the BBC. 

The activists were charged in three seperate sessions in Riyadh criminal court for being in contact with human rights organizations, the UK-based Saudi rights organization ALQST said. They face up to five years in prison for violating the country’s cyber-crime laws.

Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Hatoon al-Fassi, and Loujain al-Hathloul, who helped lead the effort to lift Saudi Arabia’s female driving ban, are some of the activists on trial.

Human rights advocates have serious concerns about the activists' welfare.

“I think it's certain that these activists, will not get a fair trial,” Managing Director for Research and Policy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft Sarah Whitson told Global Citizen. 

“Loujain and others have now been imprisoned for two years, merely on charges that they spoke to foreign media about the women's rights situation in Saudi Arabia. If this is sufficient to constitute a crime, then the trial itself is a rubber stamp on a fundamentally unjust legal order.”

The activists were not granted access to legal representation and the trial was closed off to diplomats and the press. 

The activists have been detained since May 2018 and reported being subjected to various forms of torture, including sexual harassment, electrocution, and lashing. The Saudi deputy public prosecutor denied these allegations. 

Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has taken small steps toward granting women equal rights as women’s rights advocates continue to face persecution. Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the government lifted its driving and travel bans and allowed women to attend sporting events, while the male guardianship system remains. 

Related Stories June 25, 2018 Saudi Arabia Officially Lifts Widely Criticized Ban on Female Drivers

“The message that the Crown Prince has chosen to send his citizens is that they have no role,” Whitson said. “They have no say in seeking reform and change in their country. Only he gets to decide what reforms will take place, only he gets to take credit for change in the kingdom.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council recently condemned Saudi Arabia for detaining activists. Whitman urges the US to follow suit.

“The United States has an important role to play here, because it has diplomatically supported and protected Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration has done its utmost to minimize focus on Saudi crimes, crimes against its own population,” Whitman said.

Not joining public condemnations of how the country punishes citizens for exercising their basic rights is “really enabling the Saudi Crown Prince,” she said.