On Thursday, three of the leading Saudi women’s rights advocates were temporarily released in a second round of trials that began Wednesday. The hearings, which were closed to the press, allegedly accused the activists of having contact with foreign diplomats and journalists. Following the first hearing on March 13, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported that the charges appeared related to the activists’ advocacy and activism for human rights in the kingdom.
The detained activists included high-profile feminists such as Aziza al-Yousef, who was among the three released, as well as Eman al-Nafjan and Loujain al-Hathloul. Hathloul became the face of the campaign against the ban on women’s driving after her arrest several times for defying the ban. Hathloul, Yousef and Nafjan also advocated to end the kingdom’s guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.
The trial of leading women’s rights activists shines a spotlight on the contradictions in the new Saudi approach to women’s rights. Even if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accedes to international pressure and acquits the detained activists, their detention and trial communicated a strong message that feminists are not welcomed in Mohammed’s model of state feminism.