Saudi women activists face ‘bogus’ charges: Rights group

Press TV – UK-based rights group Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia has leveled “bogus” charges against some 10 women rights activists.

“Some of the women were charged with promoting women’s rights and calling for the end of the male guardianship system. The women were also charged with contacting international organizations, foreign media and other activists, including their contact with Amnesty International,” the rights group said on Thursday, referring to the Saudi activists.

Amnesty’s statement came after a trial was held for the women in Riyadh’s criminal court on Wednesday. The women were among more than a dozen rights activists held without charge for nearly a year after being arrested by Saudi authorities last May.

The women, many of whom had long campaigned for women’s right to drive in the hidebound country, had been accused by some Saudi authorities of undermining national security and aiding enemies of the state at the time of arrest.

Saudi state media also described the women as being traitors and “agents of embassies” at the time.

Following the recent hearing, the London-based Saudi rights group ALQST said the women had been charged on the pretext of violating the kingdom’s cyber crime law — which can lead to sentences of up to 10 years in prison — for allegedly having contacted “hostile entities,” including human rights organizations.

Amnesty International’s Middle East campaigns director, Samah Hadid, slammed the trial as “yet another stain on the Saudi authorities’ appalling human rights record,” which “shows how empty the government’s claims of reform really are.”

Saudi and some Western media have portrayed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “reformer” on a campaign to change the country’s ultraconservative mores. But those claims have been largely discredited by more recent revelations that Mohammed has been overseeing an intense crackdown — including reported torturing — on activists and dissidents.

“The charges against the activists are the latest example of the Saudi authorities abusing legislation and the justice system to silence peaceful activists,” Hadid said.

Riyadh has also been cracking down on the Shia-populated Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-rich region.

Most notoriously, Mohammed is believed by the CIA to have ordered the killing of dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October last year.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism. In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of the Riyadh regime. Nimr had been arrested in the eastern Qatif region in 2012.