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Saudi women activists back in court as crackdown mounts in kingdom

A group of prominent Saudi women's rights activists, who were detained in last year’s crackdown, have been put on trial to face trumped-up charges related to their human rights work and contacts with foreign journalists and diplomats.

Among the female rights activists were blogger Eman al-Nafjan, retired professor at Riyadh’s King Saud University Aziza al-Yousef, and Muslim preacher Ruqayya al-Mohareb.

The trio was temporarily released last week on the condition that they attend future sessions. They were seen entering the courthouse on Wednesday.

Riyadh’s criminal court had been expected to rule earlier this week on requests for temporary releases for the other women, but sources familiar with the case said the decision had been postponed until Wednesday’s hearing. The reason was unclear.

Saudi Muslim preacher Ruqayya al-Mohareb (file photo)

The activists were detained weeks before a ban on women driving cars in the kingdom was lifted last June.

The activists were detained in a sweeping crackdown weeks before Saudi Arabia overturned the world’s only ban on female motorists on June 24, 2018. The women had staunchly advocated for the right to drive.

Saudi Arabia has lately stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution and conviction of peaceful dissident writers and human rights campaigners.

Saudi officials have also intensified crackdown in the country’s Shia-populated Eastern Province.

Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-rich region.

The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown by the regime, with security forces increasing security measures across the province.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.

In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of the Riyadh regime. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif, Eastern Province, in 2012.

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