UN human rights experts on Thursday expressed alarm over the start of a trial in Saudi Arabia involving woman human rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul and called for her immediate release from jail, Anadolu Agency reports.
The experts and special rapporteurs called for dropping of the “spurious” charges against the 31-year-old woman, who first gained prominence as a campaigner for women’s right to drive in the kingdom and the push to end male guardianship laws.
“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 Specialized Terrorism Court for exercising her fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association,” said UN expert Elizabeth Broderick.
She is the chairperson of the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls.
Al-Hathloul was detained in May 2018 on national security grounds.
“We call once again on Saudi Arabia to immediately release Ms. Al-Hathloul, a woman human rights defender who has greatly contributed to advancing women’s rights in a country where gender discrimination and stereotyping are deeply entrenched in the fabric of society,” said Broderick.
Al-Hathloul was accused of breaching article 6 of the Anti-Cybercrime Law, which punishes the production and transmission of material deemed to impinge on public order, religious values, public morals, and private life.
The Saudi authorities claimed in the charges they were based on allegations that Al-Hathloul along with other defenders “communicated with people and entities hostile to the King.”
The authorities also said she “cooperated with journalists and media institutions hostile to the King”, “provided financial support to foreign adversaries” and “recruited persons for information detrimental to the security of the Kingdom”.
Al-Hathloul met the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in February 2018 to share her observations on the state of women’s rights in the kingdom.
“The government of Saudi Arabia has a primary responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms and cannot turn a blind eye to the arbitrary detention and allegation of torture of a woman whose only reason for imprisonment was to advance women’s rights,” said Broderick.
Al-Hathloul has not been allowed regular contact with her family during her detention.
Her trials have been frequently canceled and rescheduled 24 hours before the actual hearings, allowing her little time to prepare her defense.
At the end of October, she started a hunger strike in protest against her detention conditions.
In mid-November, she interrupted the hunger strike following continued pressure from the authorities, who reportedly kept waking her every two hours to exhaust her psychologically.
The Working Group said that passing recent amendments to reform discriminatory legislation while violating the rights of women human rights defenders is “shocking” and “deceptive”.
“It is not enough to pass laws when fundamental human rights are regularly breached in practice,” said Broderick of the Working Group.
Broderick’s call was endorsed by other UN experts such as Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on human rights defenders; Fionnuala Ni Aolain, special rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism; and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.