Loujain al Hathloul’s family told Sky News they were told on Wednesday evening that they would appear before Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court for a trial that UN human rights experts have called a “Alarming”.
No details of the trial have been released by Saudi authorities or by the court, which is known to deal with terrorism cases.
Ms. al Hathloul rose to prominence more than three years ago with her call for Saudi women to be allowed to drive.
She was part of a group of women’s rights activists arrested without a clear explanation in May 2018, weeks before Saudi Arabia lifted the driving ban for women.
News of his trial comes as his sister details devastating allegations – denied by Saudi authorities – of sexual abuse and torture.
In an interview with Sky News, Lina al Hathloul said her sister’s physical and mental condition were both terrible.
“My sister is really not in good health,” Lina said in a Skype conversation from Berlin.
“She was on a hunger strike… her body was really shaking and her voice was very low. Psychologically and morally she is holding on, but she is the weakest my parents have ever seen.
“She says it is pointless for her to try to survive in this prison after almost three years in pre-trial detention. ”
Lina continued, “She said the only thing that kept her going for those three years was the times she was talking to my parents and right now that… they took my parents’ voice away from her so she said that if she had no contact with my parents, she would go on a hunger strike. ”
Elizabeth Broderick, Chair of the United Nations Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls, said: “We are extremely alarmed to learn that Ms. al Hathloul, who has been in detention for over two years for spurious charges, is now on trial by a terrorism tribunal for exercising his fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
“We once again call on Saudi Arabia to immediately release Ms. al Hathloul, a human rights defender who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of women’s rights in a country where gender discrimination and stereotypes run deep. fabric of society. ”
Last month a report Written by Scottish lawyer Baroness Kennedy alleged Ms al Hathloul was one of many activists subjected to torture and sexual abuse while in detention. The report provides no direct evidence to support its claims.
Her sister told Sky News that Loujain initially did not describe any alleged torture, but during a series of sporadic visits to her parents, who have now been arrested, she began to speak about her alleged ordeal.
“Loujain really started to cry and said that what she called a ‘palace’ – the hotel – was basically a basement in a palace which is a torture center – and they have it all,” said Lina said.
“So they were electrocuted, they sprayed her, they whipped, beat, sexually harassed her, deprived her of sleep, force-fed her.
“And what was very shocking to know was that they weren’t even trying to get a confession. They just enjoyed this torture.
Speaking to Sky News last month, as Saudi Arabia prepared to host the G20 summit, the country’s foreign minister dismissed allegations of torture, abuse and lack of rights visit.
“On what basis do you say that it was not granted on these rights? »Said Adel al Jubeir.
Because I believe our security officials dispute this in terms of lack of contact, hunger strike and abuse. This matter has been taken very seriously by the leadership of my country and His Majesty the Crown Prince has ordered an investigation into the matter, the allegations of abuse, of torture. ”
He continued, “And on what basis do people say that? We, as far as I know, is not correct. She is being held like the other inmates. She is facing trial. And when the trial is over, she will be found guilty or declared innocent. It’s up to the courts. ”
The Foreign Minister said that according to the Saudi legal process, none of the evidence against her will be revealed until the end of the trial and he insisted that she was not arrested due to her activism for Women’s rights.
“It has to do with national security,” he told Sky News.
“It’s about taking funds from foreign powers and giving them to hostile powers. It is about trying to recruit people to sensitive positions in order to obtain sensitive documents and give them to powers hostile to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. ”
However, the family say the indictment sheet relating to their case makes no explicit reference to these issues.
“I know, we all know, that Saudi Arabia is becoming a police state; that the crackdown is as harsh as ever in Saudi Arabia, ”Lina told Sky News in response to the foreign minister’s comments.
“It’s very difficult for a public figure like him not to talk about it because he’s basically part of this whole system.
“But what I mean is that there are words to use and he can just say he has no knowledge of the matter which would be a lot easier for him because now we know he’s lying and hiding. The crimes of Saudi Arabia. ”
The irony is that by imprisoning her, the Saudi authorities have simply raised her profile and that of the cause she represents.
His case also undermines the country’s attempt to present itself as a Reformed kingdom; a place where women can now drive, where religious police have been, where tourists are encouraged to come and this year’s host of the G20.
The reality, his family says, is very different.
Lina said: “My message to the international community is that I think there is more research to be done on what Saudi Arabia really is inside the country and that they need to be aware that it There are now two Saudis: the Saudi Arabia that the West sees. and Saudi Arabia under which the Saudi people live. ”
Though deeply concerned for her well-being, the al Hathloul family believe their strength and determination for justice will carry her through.
Lina said: “I must say, it’s really Loujain who gives us strength, it’s not the other way around. She is so strong and we have a duty to speak up for her.
“If we don’t, then her voice is just lost and she may disappear. So it is the fact that we hope that she will be released and the fact that we know that silence does not help. She was tortured when we fell silent. So now we have to be strong. It’s our duty. ”