As human rights defender Loujain al-Hathloul’s grossly unfair trial continues, ALQST has reviewed court documents which once again highlight the spurious nature of the charges she is facing, which are based solely on her human rights activism. The latest session of the trial in the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) took place on 21 December, and a new session was scheduled for 24 December, postponed to 28 December, at which the verdict may be issued. On 17 December and 22 December, she appeared before the regular Criminal Court in Riyadh, in yet another demonstration of the fact that the entire judicial process lacks independence and runs according to political fiat.
The court documents reviewed by ALQST include a submission of evidence from the prosecution, in which al-Hathloul is said to “confess” to taking actions relating to her human rights activism. These actions include joining a group on Telegram called "Sawaleef (chit-chat)" where she discussed human rights; liaising with human rights defender Khaled al-Omair over a "campaign for a new constitution"; and receiving daily expenses of 50 Euros from foreign organisations while attending international conferences to speak about the situation of women in Saudi Arabia. These “confessions” form the basis of the charges brought against al-Hathloul by the Public Prosecution, which were recently published by her family.
The evidence presented by the prosecution includes social media posts that al-Hathloul made on Twitter and Instagram relating to her human rights activism, including tweets supporting campaigns for women driving and to abolish the male guardianship system, and relating to her previous arrest in 2014 when she drove into Saudi Arabia from the UAE. It also refers to documents found on her phones and laptop by Saudi Arabia's Mabahith secret police, including a PDF document of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
ALQST has also reviewed the defence document delivered to the court during the second session of the trial held in the SCC on 14 December. Her case was transferred there after the Criminal Court, where her trial began in March 2019, concluded that it was “outside its jurisdiction”. During the first session in the SCC, on 10 December, the Public Prosecution presented an amended indictment against her, which had been changed in several ways without al-Hathloul or her legal representatives having been informed. The most important of these amendments was the removal of references to the UK and Dutch governments and the European Union, and the names and nationalities of individuals with whom al-Hathloul allegedly communicated and whom she intended to call as witnesses. The Public Prosecution also asked for her trial to be continued on the basis of the Law on Combating Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing (the Counter-Terrorism Law) and called for the maximum penalty under that Law of up to 20 years in prison.
In Loujain al-Hathloul’s defence document, replying to the Public Prosecution, she objects to the transferral of her case to the SCC and asks why amendments were made to the indictment without her knowledge, when the judge stated in court that the two indictments were identical. She also mentions the Public Prosecution’s repeated failure to respond to her first defence submitted on 28 March 2020.
Al-Hathloul points to international and regional treaties that Saudi Arabia has ratified and shows how basic rights recognised in these treaties are being violated in her case. She also questions the Public Prosecution’s use of the Counter-Terrorism Law, under which she has been charged, and highlights its failure to define terms it invokes against her contained in Articles 38, 43 and 53 of the Law, including “terrorist entitles hostile to the kingdom”, “terrorist individuals”, and “criminal project”.
“The more information that comes to light from Loujain al-Hathloul’s trial, the more apparent it becomes how deeply flawed the whole process is,” said ALQST’s Executive Director Alaa Al-Siddiq. “From the charge sheet and entire evidence relating simply to her peaceful activism, to the deplorable use of the terrorism court and Counter-Terrorism Law, the Saudi authorities are making a mockery of justice, and the international community must call this out.”
ALQST calls on the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against Loujain al-Hathloul and immediately and unconditionally release her, as well as all those detained for the peaceful expression of their opinions or for acting to promote human rights.