International rights groups denounce Saudi decision to try jailed women’s activists

International human rights groups have censured Saudi Arabia over its decision to put on trial women’s rights activists detained in last year’s crackdown, after holding them for nearly a year without charge.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said on Friday that the ultra-conservative kingdom’s public prosecutor was preparing the trials of the detainees as it had concluded its investigation.

The prosecution office, however, did not specify the charges nor give a date for the court proceedings.

More than a dozen activists were arrested last May, and held on suspicion of harming the country’s interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad.

At the time, international rights groups reported the detention of prominent female activists among the detainees, who had previously campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system.

Some were later released, but activists have said several of the women were held in solitary confinement for months and faced torture and sexual harassment.

“The Saudi prosecution is bringing charges against the women’s rights activists instead of releasing them unconditionally,” said Michael Page, deputy director in the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.

He added, “The Saudi authorities have done nothing to investigate serious allegations of torture.

“Now, it’s the women’s rights activists, not any torturers, who face criminal charges and trials.”

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