Saudi Arabia: Loujain Al-Hathloul faces fabricated charges related to her peaceful human rights activities
After more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention, Saudi woman human rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul was brought to trial on 25 November 2020. Her case was transferred to the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC – also known as the Terrorism Court), after the judge at the Criminal Court in the capital, Riyadh, decided not to have jurisdiction in her case. However, the family was informed that the case may have been summarily sent back to the Criminal Court, which will hear the case today. The family fears that Al-Hathloul is facing up to 20 years in prison for her human rights work.
After her latest hearing on 16 December 2020, her sister Lina Al-Hathloul tweeted that the SCC judge “said he will compare Loujain's defense with the prosecutor’s response. He fixed a session on Monday 21/12/2020 in which a probable sentence would have been given. BUT... Once done with the hearing, and after arriving at home, our parents received a text message from the court informing them that there is a hearing tomorrow at 9:30am at the Criminal Court (and not the terrorism court anymore ??).”
At the second hearing on 14 December 2020, Al-Hathloul submitted her defence and received “evidence of her alleged crimes,” according to her sister Lina, who reported on twitter that “They include tweets about the Women2Drive campaign, and audios of her explaining the male guardianship system.”
On 10 December 2020, International Human Rights Day, celebrated worldwide, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia decided to commence the trial of Al-Hathloul, an award winner and one of the most influential women in the region. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is appalled that she is being tried for her human rights work, as the list of modified charges presented against her shows no evidence of the alleged crime of “undermin[ing] the kingdom’s security, stability and national unity.” Al-Hathloul is a dedicated human rights defender who is well-known for her campaign for the right of women to drive – a right that was granted to women in Saudi Arabia in June 2018 shortly after her arrest.
The Terrorism Court was established in 2008 to try members of terrorist groups and definitely was not initially designed to try cases of human rights defenders yet has since been mostly used to charge and imprison human rights defenders on falsified charges. At its first session to hear Al-Hathloul’s case on 10 December, the judge stated that the new indictment is identical to the previous one, when in fact, charges have been rephrased to remove references to some Western countries (“British national”, “British government”, “Dutch”, “European Union”.) Al-Hathloul’s family refuted it after publishing a comparison of the previous and recent indictment on the website about the case of Loujain Al-Hathloul, noting that she had signed the recent indictment in good faith after being told it was the same.
The recent indictment submitted by the Public Prosecutor includes 13 charges against her, summarised by GCHR as follows:
1. Inciting and calling for a change in the system of government in the Kingdom, and coordinating it with (human rights defender) Khaled Al-Omair on a Telegram program to organise a Twitter campaign on WhatsApp calling for a new constitution;
2. Her participation in claiming rights…….in execution of external agendas;
3. Her relentless pursuit of serving that agenda (outlined above) inside and outside the Kingdom ... with a coordinated plan that corresponds to the media and field movements of those claiming these alleged rights by demanding the removal of guardianship from women and her participation in attending conferences and seminars related to women in Saudi Arabia;
4. Her communication with international bodies and organisations, individuals and entities, and group of foreign journalists, preparing the shadow report on women in coordination with an external organisation / and providing them with information on the conditions, status of women in the Kingdom and their rights, issues related to her and what was issued against her and other measures related to travel bans, writing and appearing in the media ... and communicated with some members of the embassies of those Western countries and provided them with the details of her case;
5. Receiving financial support from an external organisation in order to visit human rights organisations and attend conferences and seminars to participate in talking about the status of women in Saudi Arabia;
6. Submitting proposals to an external organisation and to human rights defender Yahya Assiri;
7. Communicating using WhatsApp in 2018 and sending a Qatari citizen a report on women’s rights entitled “A Comparison of the Laws on Women’s Status in GCC Countries” prepared by human rights defender Dr. Hala Al-Dosari (a member of GCHR’s Advisory Board);
8. Her sympathy with the Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA but referred to as HASM in the indictment), which was dissolved in 2013, through her writings and publication of tweets sympathetic to the organisation, and the publication of judgments issued in its regard;
9. Taking a test to apply for a job with the United Nations, and sending her CV which mentions that she is a human rights activist who has been arrested more than once and is banned from travel;
10. Holding meetings at her father's house with diplomats and talking about the details of her previous time in prison in al-Ha'ir;
11. Participating in a documentary film with journalists about her personal experience in prison after her arrest;
12. Producing, preparing, storing and sending what would “prejudice the public order” and is punishable under Article 6 of the Anti-Electronic Crime Law No. M / 17 of 2007 through the following:
A. Her use of the Internet, social media software and applications to communicate with others;
B. Joining WhatsApp and Telegram groups and talk about revoking guardianship from women;
C. Filmed and published in a number of clips contrary to the truth;
D. Violation of a previous pledge.
The Public Prosecutor has taken the communications that Al-Hathloul made – related to her work about the violations that women are subjected to in Saudi Arabia - with human rights activists, other human rights institutions, other governments and their diplomatic missions, in addition to her personal opinions as evidence to try to prove the charges against her.
The Public Prosecutor demanded that she be convicted and sentenced to the maximum number of penalties stipulated in Article 6 of Anti-Electronic Crime Law No. M / 17 of 2007, which includes "imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years and a fine not exceeding three million Riyals."
The Public Prosecutor also demanded that her social media accounts be closed in accordance with Article 14 of the same law and that she be banned from writing on social media and prevented from traveling.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights calls on the Saudi authorities to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Loujain Al-Hathloul and all detained human rights defenders, activists and prisoners of conscience;
- Respect public freedoms, including freedom of expression online and offline, and protect the civil and human rights of all citizens without exception; and
- Ensure that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able, in all circumstances, to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and without any restrictions, including judicial harassment.
- Work proactively with the independent human rights community and individual defenders to achieve real reform, and enhance human rights records, equality and women’s rights.
- Abstain from associating human rights work, and engagement with UN and international human rights mechanisms, with terrorism acts.