Jailed Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul is accused of contacting “unfriendly” states and providing classified information, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told AFP, after the campaigner’s trial was transferred to a terrorism court.
Hathloul, 31, was arrested in May 2018 with around 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.
Saudi authorities late last month transferred her case to the draconian anti-terrorism court, her family said, raising the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence, despite international pressure for her release.
“There are accusations of dealing with states unfriendly to the kingdom and with providing classified information and other issues like that,” Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said during a visit to Manama, the capital of Bahrain.
“It’s up to the courts to decide… what the facts are,” he added, without giving any further details.
Hathloul’s treatment has been sharply criticized by rights groups, and her sister Lina al-Hathloul said that during the three years of pre-trial detention, no evidence to support the allegations had been put forward.
“Loujain’s charges don’t mention any contact with ‘unfriendly’ states — they explicitly cite her contact with the EU, the UK and the Netherlands. Does Saudi Arabia consider them as enemies?” she said to AFP.
“The charges don’t mention anything about sensitive information either, they are all about her activism — they accuse her of speaking about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia in international conferences and to NGOs.”
Lina al-Hathloul said her sister was not aware of what the classified information is.
Hathloul, who recently went on a two-week hunger strike in prison, was visibly “weak” and “shaking uncontrollably” when she appeared on November 26 at Riyadh’s criminal court, where she has been tried since March 2019 in closed-door sessions, Lina has said.
Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, faces growing international criticism for its human rights record, even as US President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration could intensify scrutiny of its human rights failings.
“We don’t look at international pressure on these issues one way or the other,” Prince Faisal said.
“These are domestic issues of our national security and we will deal with them in an appropriate manner, through our court system.”
While some detained women activists have been provisionally released, Hathloul and others remain imprisoned on what rights groups describe as opaque charges.
The pro-government Saudi media has branded them as “traitors” and Hathloul’s family alleges she experienced sexual harassment and torture in detention.
Saudi authorities vigorously deny the charges.