Human rights ambassadors from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Estonia, Luxembourg and Finland released a joint statement on Sunday criticising Saudi Arabia for arbitrarily detaining women’s rights activists.
The ambassadors said they are “deeply concerned” about the jailed activists, highlighting the cases of Loujain al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi, who have now been referred to the Specialized Criminal Court for those accused of terrorism and endangering national security.
“The role of human rights defenders is essential, we must continue to protect and support them. Peaceful activism and advocating for women’s rights is not a crime,” the statement read.
“We join the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteurs and Treaty Bodies in reiterating our call for the release of all political detainees, including the women’s rights activists.”
This followed Hathloul’s appearance in court on Wednesday after a 900-day pre-trial detention.
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.
“She looked weak in court, her body was shaking uncontrollably and her voice was faint and shaky,” the activist’s sister, Lina Hathloul, wrote on Twitter.
Riyadh’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) was established in 2008 to handle terrorism-related cases, but has been widely used to try political prisoners.
Earlier this year, Amnesty International said the secretive SCC was being used to silence critical voices, including clerics and rights activists under the cover of fighting terrorism.
While some women activists have been provisionally released, Hathloul and others remain in detention on what rights groups describe as opaque charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and activist groups.
Saudi Arabia’s pro-government media has branded Hathloul and others as “traitors”, and her family says she experienced sexual harassment and torture in detention.
Saudi authorities deny these accusations.
The detention of women activists has cast a spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom, which has also faced intense global criticism over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate.