Female Saudi activist faces anti-terrorism court

2020-11-26 15:00:33 GMT2020-11-26 23:00:33(Beijing Time) Sina English

Loujain al-Hathloul

Saudi authorities have transferred the trial of jailed activist Loujain al-Hathloul to an anti-terrorism court, her family said on Wednesday, raising the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence despite international pressure for her release.

Hathloul, 31, was arrested in May 2018 with about a dozen other women activists just weeks before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on female drivers, a reform they had long campaigned for.

Hathloul, who recently went on a two-week hunger strike, was visibly “weak” and “shaking uncontrollably” when she appeared at Riyadh’s criminal court, where she has been tried since March 2019 in closed-door sessions, her sister Lina Hathloul said.

The judge announced his court lacked jurisdiction and sent the case to the Specialised Criminal Court, or the anti-terrorism court, Lina said.

“How is it possible for the judge to realize the court lacks jurisdiction after dealing with the case for 1 year and 8 months?” She wrote on Twitter.

There was no comment from officials in Saudi Arabia.

Hathloul read out her four-page defense in Wednesday’s hearing, her other sister Alia al-Hathloul said on Twitter.

Her siblings are based outside the kingdom, but some other family were said to be present in court.

The Specialised Criminal Court was established in 2008 to handle terrorism-related cases. But it has been widely used to try political dissidents and human rights activists.

In a report this year, Amnesty International said the secretive court was used to silence critical voices under the cover of fighting terrorism. “Saudi authorities could have decided to end the two-year nightmare for brave human rights defender Loujain al-Hathloul,” Lynn Maalouf said in a statement.

Hathloul began a hunger strike in prison on October 26 to demand regular contact with her family, but felt compeled to end it two weeks later, her siblings said.

“She was being woken up by the guards every two hours, day and night, as a brutal tactic to break her,” Amnesty said on Twitter, citing the activist’s family.