Female Saudi activists temporarily released

Nearly a dozen Saudi women appeared in front of a three-judge panel on March 27 to recount the stories of torture and sexual harrassment they experienced while imprisoned for the last year.

The women are all women’s rights activists arrested for a variety of crimes and were all detained for more than a year while awaiting their trial.

Loujain al-Hathloul is one of many gender-equality activists imprisoned last year. She recently told her family she had been sexually harassed and beaten during her time in prison. She also said she found a male guard sitting next to her while she was sleeping.  

According to Al Jazeera, Rokaya al-Mohareb, Aziza al-Youssef and Eman al-Nafjan, three of the 10 women who testified, were temporarily released on March 28. Their release requires that they continue to show up for any and all further hearings or testimonies.

Several of the women face charges which fall under Saudi Arabia’s cybercrime laws. These charges come with a maximum five-year sentence. All of the women were detained sometime in the last year while campaigning for gender equality in Saudi Arabia. Several of the women arrested face retribution for speaking to human rights organizations and other foreign agencies.

“After nearly a year of accusations in Saudi government media that these brave champions of women’s rights are ‘foreign agents,’ the actual charges against them appear to be simply a list of their efforts to promote women’s rights,” said Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch Michael Page said Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch Michael Page.

According to The Washington Post, witnesses say the women displayed “apparent signs of abuse.” These signs included inability to stand and “uncontrollable shaking.”

In response to the accusations, an anonymous Saudi official told The Washington Post, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s judiciary system does not condone, promote or allow the use of torture. Anyone, whether male or female, being investigated is going through the standard judiciary process led by the public prosecution while being held for questioning, which does not in any way rely on torture either physical, sexual or psychological.”

The Saudi government now faces international criticism over its human rights record. As of March 7, 36 countries had signed a letter questioning whether or not Saudi Arabia is upholding equal and fair human rights. The letter called for the release of human rights activists who were exercising their right to criticize the government.

According to human rights organization ALQST, the Saudi government made promises to release the remaining eight women by March 31. The organization tweeted on April 3 that no more women had been released, contrary to statements made by the Saudi courts. The final hearing and sentencing is set for April 17.