Saudi Women's Rights Activists Appear In Riyadh Court Defying international calls for the activists' release, a Saudi Arabian court began legal proceedings on Wednesday for Loujain Alhathloul and several other women.
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Saudi Women's Rights Activists Appear In Riyadh Court

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Saudi Women's Rights Activists Appear In Riyadh Court

Saudi Women's Rights Activists Appear In Riyadh Court

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Saudi Arabia's crown prince portrays himself as dedicated to giving women more rights - or perhaps more properly spoken more privileges. He has allowed women to do things like drive and attend sporting events. But the country has also put some female activists in jail. Yesterday, several women appeared in court after months in detention. And rights groups say they've been tortured. Here's NPR's Dalia Mortada.

DALIA MORTADA, BYLINE: Back in 2014, Loujain Alhathloul recorded herself driving from the United Arab Emirates, where she lived, to Saudi Arabia, where she's from.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

LOUJAIN ALHATHLOUL: (Speaking Arabic).

MORTADA: In her video, with a broad smile, she says she's trying to overturn the ban on women driving. Let's see what happens, she adds.

Alhathloul was arrested and released two months later. But then she was detained again last May, just before the kingdom lifted the driving ban. And she's been in jail ever since. Alhathloul appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday, along with several other women. The government didn't publicly state the charges brought against them or provide a comment to NPR. But Samah Hadid, who's in Beirut with Amnesty International, said the women were accused of vague allegations of being in contact with foreign entities.

SAMAH HADID: And now the government is signaling that any form of activism, any form of women's rights campaigning would be treated as a crime. And this is a dangerous escalation.

MORTADA: Alhathloul's brother, Walid, told NPR's All Things Considered this week that his sister has been tortured.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WALID ALHATHLOUL: Electrocutions, waterboarding - also, she was subject to sexual harassment.

MORTADA: Pressure has been building on Saudi Arabia around its poor human rights record. And last week, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights called on Saudi Arabia to release the women. Hadid said those calls might be helping.

HADID: It appears as though now they've been referred to a criminal court, and this may reflect pressure from the international community.

MORTADA: She said that at first, the women were set to appear in front of Saudi Arabia's terrorism court.

Dalia Mortada, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIA KENT'S "LAST HOUR STORY")

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