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Saudi women's rights activist faces unnamed charges without a lawyer

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Saudi womens rights activist faces unnamed charges without a lawyer
Saudi women's rights activist faces unnamed charges without a lawyer. picture-alliance/AP Photo/Loujain al-Hathloul
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A Saudi court on Wednesday opened the trial of prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was detained last year during a crackdown on rights campaigners.

Al-Hathloul is known for campaigning against the driving ban for women and the male guardianship system. She rose to notoriety in 2014 when she attempted to enter the United Arab Emirates by car from Saudi Arabia.

What we know about the case:

  • Al-Hathloul was arrested last year along with other women's rights activists during a sweeping crackdown
  • She has been subjected to torture, including flogging and sexual assault, Saudi activists and al-Hathloul's family members said
  • Al-Hathloul does not have access to a lawyer, her family said
  • Hours before the trial started, Saudi authorities changed the trial venue, moving it from a terrorism court to a criminal court
Read more: Saudi women refugees in Germany: Still living in fear

'Subjected to sex assault and torture'

Amnesty International late Tuesday called on the Saudi government to "release her immediately," saying Al-Hathloul did nothing wrong.

"She has been detained for months for her peaceful activism and possibly subjected to sex assault and torture," Amnesty said.

On Twitter, al-Hathloul's brother, Walid, said her family has yet to be informed of the charges she faces.

Read more: Saudi ambassador to Germany worries dissidents in exile

Crown prince's fall from grace

Al-Hathloul was arrested weeks before the Saudi government relaxed a ban on women driving. Until then, Saudi was the only country in the world to impose such a ban.

The lifting of the ban was part of a series of reforms pledged by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But the reforms, which included allowing women to open their own business without the consent of a male relative, have been met with hostility by some people in Saudi Arabia. Ultraconservative clerics have warned that such reforms would "corrupt society."

Once hailed as a pro-Western reformer, the crown prince has fallen out of favor in the international community for his alleged involvement in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was critical of bin Salman.

Read more: Saudi Arabia: The crown prince and the generation gap

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ls/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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