[JURIST] A court in Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, has ordered that the criminal cases against Loujain Hathloul and Maysaa Alamoudi [Twitter feeds; in Arabic], two women’s rights activists, be transferred to a special tribunal for terrorism in Riyadh. The women were arrested in December while attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from UAE [Al Jazeera report], which borders Saudi Arabia. Although Saudi Arabia has not outright criminalized women’s driving, tradition and custom effectively ban women from driving within the country [AFP report]. There is some speculation that the women are not being detained for driving, but for their extensive documentation of their interactions with Saudi authorities on Twitter [website]. Saudi Arabia prohibits women from protesting or organizing to address women’s rights, and the country has banned protests [Al Jazeera report] and nongovernmental human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] recently released a report criticizing Saudi authorities for what it described as a “crackdown” on people who criticize the government [HRW report] on the internet. Attorneys for the women have challenged the order to transfer the case, and an appellate court in Dammam is expected to rule on the matter shortly.
Saudi Arabia’s justice system has drawn international criticism for perceived human rights abuses in recent years. In October a Saudi Arabia Court sentenced three lawyers to between five and eight years in prison for criticizing the justice system [JURIST report] on Twitter by accusing authorities of carrying out arbitrary detentions. Earlier that month Amnesty International issued a report claiming that Saudi Arabia persecutes rights activists and silences government critics [JURIST report], especially in the years since the Arab Spring in 2011. Saudi Arabia has also faced sharp criticism for its high number of executions. In September two experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Saudi Arabia to implement an immediate moratorium on the death penalty [JURIST report] following an increase in executions, with a significant number of the executions completed by beheading. In July then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, expressed deep concern over the harsh sentences and detention of peaceful human rights advocates [JURIST report] in Saudi Arabia in recent months. In February JURIST Guest Columnist Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch argued that a new Saudi Arabian terrorism law was a vague, catch-all document [JURIST op-ed] that can—and probably will—be used to prosecute or jail anyone who criticizes the Saudi government and to violate their due process rights along the way.