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Controversial Court Case Resumes for Female Saudi Activists

A Saudi Arabian court has resumed the trial of 11 women activists facing charges related to their human rights work, as well as their contacts with foreign journalists and diplomats. Some of the charges fall under the kingdom’s cybercrime law, which could lead to jail sentences of up to five years. The women were arrested in May 2018, a month before the kingdom lifted its driving ban for women. Loujain al-Hathloul, Hatoon al-Fassi and Eman Al Nafjan had participated in campaigns for the right of women to drive. Rights groups and the women’s families say some of those detained have been subjected to physical and psychological abuse. The case, which resumed on Wednesday, is largely seen as an attempt to stamp out the opposition and has greatly angered the West. Three dozen countries, including all 28 EU members, have called on Saudi Arabia to free the activists. Nine prominent US senators, including presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, wrote a public letter last week calling on King Salman to release a number of prisoners held on “dubious charges related to their activism.” They included some of those on trial. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue during his recent visit to Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has worked with Western countries to support economic and social reforms, but his and his country’s reputations were stained last October when Saudi agents killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, igniting an international outcry.