Saudi Arabia has temporarily released three women’s rights activists from prison following mounting scrutiny and critique of the detentions. The women are part of a group of 11 activists initially detained during the summer of 2018.
The three women were identified as blogger Eman al-Nafjan, academic Aziza al-Yousef, who is in her 60s, and Ruqayya al-Mohareb, a conservative preacher detained in an earlier crackdown on clerics and intellectuals. https://t.co/sDkoTsBO16
— Stephen Kalin (@stephenkalin) March 29, 2019
The activists were reportedly charged with crimes relating to their peaceful human rights advocacy. Additionally, prosecutors accused the women of “sharing information about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia with journalists based in Saudi Arabia…deeming such contacts a criminal offense,” according to the Human Rights Watch.
The charges also include sharing information with human rights organizations and diplomats. These allegations contradict a statement made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from an interview in October 2018, when he stated that the activists would not be prosecuted for speaking to journalists.
The women were released a day after testifying in court that they were abused while incarcerated. The allegations ranged from whipping and electrocution to sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
Human rights organizations have been aware of the abuse allegations since November 2018. However, these groups as well as members of the media were not able to communicate with the women in prison. Further complicating the matter, foreign media and other independent observers have not been allowed in the courtroom.
The eight remaining women were expected to be released several days after the first three women’s release. However, no decision has been reached on their futures yet.
#Saudi criminal court ordered release of three Saudi women today! Now the authorities should release all remaining women and other human rights activists and drop all charges against them.
— Rothna Begum (@Rothna_Begum) March 28, 2019
The controversy surrounding the activists’ imprisonment is only the latest in a series of scandals in Saudi Arabia, including the murder of Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.
In the first episode of MediaFile’s “Long Time, No See” podcast, Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher at the Human Rights Watch, discussed the story of the detained activists and its implications in relation to the Khashoggi case.
“[Jamal Khashoggi] may, more or less, just become a symbol of brutality and lack of justice and lack of accountability and a representation of what still needs to change,” Coogle said.
Coogle continued, “Hopefully, at the very least, these things being in the media, coming up for votes, I think could lead to further discussion, further pressure both on the administration and, by virtue of the administration, the Saudis to release the women.”
— Adam Coogle (@cooglea) March 28, 2019