On March 1, Saudi Arabia’s Office of Public Prosecution announced its decision to move forward with their upcoming trials against women’s rights activists, reports. The activists previously arrested include women and men who advocated for Saudi Arabia to overturn its ban on prohibiting women to drive.
The New York Times reports that other activists were campaigning for separate issues, including a push to open a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. Based on testimonies from the activists’ families, some held in custody allege having been tortured.
In its statement, Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecutor’s Office asserted how the investigation was carried out, and claimed that the activists were acting to “undermine the security and stability of the kingdom.” Although none of the detainees was formally charged with a crime, some have been imprisoned since last year, around the time that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lifted the prohibition against women drivers.
Out of the 17 originally arrested, nine are still detained. The others have been allowed a temporary release.
As Human Rights Watch reports, some of the detainees have been tortured and sexually assaulted, leading to condemnation from the organization’s Deputy Middle East Director, Michael Page. Page stated, “The Saudi authorities have done nothing to investigate serious allegations of torture, and now, it’s the women’s rights activists, not any torturers, who face criminal charges and trials.”
Condemnation towards Saudi Arabia from human rights organizations comes at a time when the country faces widespread outrage over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It is widely suspected by global intelligence agencies that Crown Prince Salman himself ordered Khashoggi’s killing. Condemnation has even arrived from international policy heavyweights like the European Union and the United Nations Human Rights Council, reports The Washington Post.
Khashoggi’s death and the imprisonment of women’s rights campaign members reflects the difficulty all activists face within the Arab country, reports to Al Jazeera. Saudi Arabian journalist Omaima al-Najjar described her time getting to know one of the imprisoned activists, Eman al-Nafian. She explains how al-Nafian was one of the instructors at the King Saud Bin Abdulaziz University for Health Science, and taught her class the importance of the freedom of speech and expression.
Al-Nafian voiced similar opinions on her blog, which became one of the country’s most popular. Online, al-Nafian wrote on issues brought up in her class and women’s rights in general. “She provided the English-speaking world with a rare, uncensored, in-depth perspective on the current affairs in Saudi Arabia,” al-Najjar writes. “She built a name for herself in the blogosphere and even had big Western media outlets such as the Guardian, the New York Times and CNN approach her to write for them.”
For all of her activism and dedication, al-Nafian was still detained with other activists. “We will continue campaigning for the release of Eman despite U.S. President Donald Trump clearly giving Saudi Arabia a pass on human rights violations,” al-Najjar continued.
Al-Najjar also detailed that in spite of the threats faced by activists, many are still committed in campaigning for human rights within the country. “Meanwhile, I and many other Saudi activists abroad, will not stop exposing the savagery of the Saudi government and the crimes it commits on a regular basis against its own people.”