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Saudi Arabia tries women’s rights activists

Reuters

Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture.

Reuters RIYADH (Reuters) — Saudi Arabian women’s rights activists stood trial on Wednesday for the first time since their arrest over nine months ago, a case that has intensified scrutiny of Riyadh’s human rights record after the murder of a prominent journalist.

Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan and Hatoon Al-Fassi are among 10 women to appear before the Criminal Court in the capital Riyadh, where charges were presented against them, court president Ibrahim al-Sayari said.

He was speaking to reporters and more than a dozen diplomats from the United States and Europe, who were barred from entering the court after receiving no response to earlier requests. Sayari cited privacy concerns for not making the trial public.

The women are among more than a dozen prominent activists, including several men, arrested in the weeks before a ban on women driving cars in the conservative kingdom was lifted last June. A few were previously released without trial.

At the time of the arrests, the public prosecutor said five men and four women were being held on suspicion of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad. State-backed media labeled them as traitors and “agents of embassies,” unnerving foreign diplomats in the key U.S. ally.

Some of the women appeared in the courtroom together on Wednesday, but their cases appeared to be separate, with relatives entering only for certain parts of the session.

ALQST, a London-based Saudi rights group, said the women were charged under the kingdom’s cybercrime law, which stipulates prison sentences ranging from one to 10 years. The accusations are related to human rights work and communications with “hostile entities,” ALQST said on Twitter.

The status of legal representation was unclear. Rights groups have previously said the activists had no access to lawyers during more than nine months of detention and interrogation.Speech

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