Saudi Prosecutor Refers Jailed Women's Rights Activists to Court

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia will refer a group of prominent women’s rights activists to court, the public prosecutor said on Friday, moving forward in a case that’s sparked controversy at home and abroad.

Investigations in the case are complete and an indictment has been prepared against the defendants, who are accused of “coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom,” the public prosecutor said in the statement, published Friday night by the official Saudi Press Agency. The prosecutor added that “all the defendants in this case enjoy all the rights that the law guarantees them.”

Authorities had detained the activists last May, along with several of their male supporters. Most of the them had fought for years for the right for women to drive, only to be arrested a month before that right was granted by the government in June.

Their detention has become a symbol of a political crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even as he’s opening up the kingdom’s economy and loosening many social restrictions.

Prince Mohammed also has come under international pressure since the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul last October. The government has denied that the crown prince played any role in the killing. President Donald Trump has said “maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.”

The government hasn’t named the activists who were detained -- supporters say they include Loujain Al Hathloul, Aziza Alyousef and Eman Al Nafjan -- and has denied assertions by family members and human rights groups that some of them were tortured and subjected to electric shocks. The government didn’t say how many are being referred to the courts.

Some of those detained had been sent home recently, leading Ali Shihabi -- who heads a pro-Saudi think tank in Washington -- to write on Twitter that he was getting “strong signals from Riyadh that this nightmare” would be over soon.

‘Everything Is Repairable’

Al Hathloul had received a visit in jail recently from an official who asked her to sign a petition requesting a pardon from King Salman, her sister Alia Al Hathloul said.

“He said everything is repairable,” Alia Al Hathloul said. “We were kind of hopeful, and I was really thinking she was going to be released now and I’m so surprised to see this. It’s very confusing."

It’s possible the activists could be put on trial, convicted and then given a royal pardon.

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