Saudi Women’s Rights Activists Granted Release, but Their Trial Continues


A Saudi Arabian court on Thursday freed three of the women’s rights activists who are standing trial in a case that had drawn international criticism of the kingdom’s human rights record, but did not dismiss the charges against them.

The Saudi state news agency said the women had been granted a temporary release by the criminal court in Riyadh, the capital. A human rights group that has worked on behalf of the women, ALQST, said there were indications in the closed courtroom that, in the next few days, other defendants could be released even as their trial moves forward.

The defendants were arrested last spring and accused of acting as foreign agents and working to “undermine the security” of Saudi Arabia. The group Human Rights Watch recently said the charges “appear almost entirely related to their human rights activities.”

Human rights groups have reported that some of the women were subjected to torture and other physical and psychological abuse in jail. Some news organizations, citing people who were present, reported on Wednesday that the women described that treatment to the three judges hearing the case.

The government has denied that any abuse took place.

The women’s arrests preceded the much-publicized lifting of a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, a highly visible cause but just one of many restrictions the activists had chafed against.

The women had defied the government amid a harsh crackdown on dissent orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was consolidating power by moving against critics and potential rivals.

That campaign drew global attention in October with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and critic of the government who lived in the United States and wrote columns for The Washington Post. Saudi agents killed Mr. Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and the intelligence agencies of the United States and some of his allies have concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered his death.

Source : Nytimes