1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Saudi activists to go on trial

March 2, 2019

Some of the activists have allegedly been tortured and sexually harassed in Saudi Arabia. They will go on trial for undermining "the kingdom's security, stability and national unity."

Follow the Hashtag - Stop Enslaving Saudi Women: Protesting against male guardianship
Image: DW

Human rights groups widely denounced Saudi Arabia on Saturday after prosecutors said they had referred jailed activists for trial.

Public prosecutors said Friday the activists would be put on trial for undermining "the kingdom's security, stability and national unity."

Read more: Saudi women refugees in Germany: Still living in fear 

More than a dozen activists were arrested last May and detained without charge just a month before the kingdom lifted a ban on women driving. Some of the women were later released.

Prosecutors did not mention the names of the activists or dates of the trial, but said that "all detainees in this case enjoy all rights preserved by the laws in the kingdom."

Allegations of torture

Some of the women have faced torture and sexual harassment while in detention in the ultra-conservative kingdom, according to human rights groups.

Read more: From Badawi to Khashoggi: Freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia 

"The Saudi authorities have done nothing to investigate serious allegations of torture," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Now, it's the women's rights activists, not any torturers, who face criminal charges and trials."

Amnesty International called the decision to put the women on trial a "shocking sign of the kingdom's escalating crackdown on activists" and demanded the immediate release of prisoners of conscience.

The women include activists in their 20s as well as mothers, grandmothers and retired professors who had protested the strict restrictions on women in the kingdom, which include the male guardianship system and a driving ban lifted last year. 

The Saudi government has rejected the allegations of torture.

Kingdom under pressure

Last month, the European Parliament passed a resolution demanding EU member states press Saudi Arabia to improve women's rights, including abolishing the male guardianship system. They also urged the release from Saudi prisons of women's rights activists.

Read more: Saudi coalition uses German arms in Yemen 

Canadian criticism of the activists' arrests last year saw Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties to Ottawa.

The kingdom has come under international condemnation over the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October, as well as over its leading role in the war in Yemen.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the crown, has launched a crackdown since last year in a bid to muzzle dissent. 

cw/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.