Saudi Arabia frees four more women activists pending trial

| A protest calling for the release of jailed women's rights activists outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Paris, on March 8, 2019.
| A protest calling for the release of jailed women’s rights activists outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Paris, on March 8, 2019.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday released at least four more detained women activists pending trial, campaigners said, bringing the total number of women provisionally freed to seven.

“Hatoon al-Fassi, Amal al-Harbi, Maysaa al-Manea, and Abeer Namankani were temporarily released,” London-based rights group ALQST said on Twitter, adding that there were unconfirmed reports of a fifth activist being released.

Another campaigner close to the families of 11 women on trial told AFP five women had been temporarily released.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi authorities.

The activists, some of whom have accused interrogators of sexual abuse and torture during nearly a year in custody, face charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and human rights groups.

Three of them – activist Aziza al-Yousef, blogger Eman al-Nafjan and preacher Rokaya al-Mohareb – were granted temporary release in late March.

The siblings of activist Loujain al-Hathloul – one of the prominent detainees who was not among those freed on Thursday – have said they were being pressured by people close to the Saudi state to stay silent over her treatment in detention.

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Hathloul’s sister Alia said her sibling has been tortured and sexually abused during her detention.

‘My sister, Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul, has been tortured in prison’

Saudi prosecutors have roundly rejected the accusations of torture and abuse.

Riyadh has faced pressure from Western governments to release the women, most of whom were detained last summer in a wide-ranging crackdown against activists just before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on female motorists.

But last month, Saudi Arabia mounted a fresh crackdown that sent shock waves through the kingdom.

Authorities arrested at least nine writers and academics, including two US citizens, in an apparent crackdown on supporters of the women activists on trial, campaigners said.

It marked the first major crackdown since the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, which sparked unprecedented international scrutiny of the kingdom’s human rights record.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)



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