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Saudi Arabia to prosecute group believed to include detained women's rights activists

Individuals set to face trial may include Saudi rights activists detained last year
Activists who fought to end Saudi Arabia's driving ban for women were arrested last year (Reuters/File photo)

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said the country will prosecute an unidentified number of individuals, a group that journalists and rights groups say may include some detained Saudi women's rights activists.

The prosecutor's office "has concluded its investigation and prepared the indictment list against the defendants in this case, and will refer the case to the relevant court," the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said on Friday.

The SPA report did not divulge the identities of those who will face charges.

SPA provided few details but referenced a June 2018 statement that said nine people - five men and four women - were arrested and held on suspicion of harming the country's security and offering support to hostile elements abroad.

Rights groups said the people set to face trial may include women's rights activists who were arrested around the time of the kingdom's statement in June.

At that time, the Saudi government detained more than a dozen activists, mostly women who previously campaigned for the right to drive and an end to Saudi Arabia's restrictive male guardianship system.

Some were later released, but Human Rights Watch reported that a number of the women who remain in detention have been subjected to torture in prison.

On Friday, Prisoners of Conscience, an organisation that promotes human rights in Saudi Arabia, said on Twitter that the case involves individuals who were arrested for promoting women's rights.

Financial Times reporter Ahmed Al Omran, who covers Saudi Arabia, echoed that claim, saying on Twitter that "women's rights activists will be referred to court".

Middle East Eye could not independently verify that information.

Calls for their release

A Saudi official told Reuters news agency in December that the allegations of mistreatment and torture of the female detainees were "false ... and have no connection to the truth".

However, human rights groups and other observers have repeatedly called on the Saudi authorities to release them.

In a letter dated 19 February but released on Friday, 30 rights organisations condemned Saudi Arabia for the activists' arrests.

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"We are gravely concerned by the reports of torture and ill-treatment of detained women's rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. They have been imprisoned since mid-2018 solely for peacefully campaigning for the protection and promotion of human rights, including women's rights, in the Kingdom," the letter read.

In early February, a panel of British MPs and lawyers investigating the detention of the Saudi women's rights activists concluded that their treatment could constitute torture under Saudi and international law.

In a report published by the Detention Review Panel, they said that the activists had been treated in a way that was "cruel, inhumane and degrading" and that "Saudi authorities at the highest levels could be responsible for the crime of torture," MEE reported at the time.

Dozens of other activists, intellectuals and clerics have been arrested separately in an apparent bid to stamp out opposition to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has consolidated power in the Gulf country.