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Loujain al-Hathloul (Amnesty International)

Writing for justice

Jailed Saudi women’s rights activists honored with coveted literary award

By WITW Staff on March 13, 2019

Ten Saudi Arabian women’s rights activists who have been held in jail without charge since May reportedly stood trial for the first time on Wednesday. Now, three of them have been honored with the prestigious PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, which is given to writers who have been imprisoned for their work.

The three recipients are Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Eman al-Nafjan. Confined to a jail in Saudi Arabia, they likely have no idea they’ve won the award.

“These gutsy women have challenged one of the world’s most notoriously misogynist governments, inspiring the world with their demand to drive, to govern their own lives, and to liberate all Saudi women from a form of medieval bondage that has no place in the 21st century,” said Suzanne Nossel, head of PEN America, the literary organization that grants the award.

The three are among a group of defendants that appeared before the Criminal Court in Riyadh last week. According to court president Ibrahim al-Sayari, the women were finally presented with charges in the courtroom. But the kingdom’s public prosecutors are still refusing to publicize the actual charges against them. And according to al-Hathloul’s brother, her case was moved from the criminal court to the Specialized Criminal Court — which was ostensibly created to try terrorism cases.

Last week, 36 countries — including all 28 members of the European Union — signed a statement calling on Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to release the activists. An independent British panel has found that at least 8 of more than a dozen women’s rights activist imprisoned last spring had suffered solitary confinement, assault, sexual harassment, and sleep deprivation while in prison. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said that all the imprisoned women have been denied access to lawyers, and that at least three suffered torture and sexual assault.

The family of al-Hathloul, one of the country’s most famous women’s rights activists, said that she has been “whipped, beaten, electrocuted, and harassed on a frequent basis.” Al-Hathloul, 29, had previously been arrested by Saudi authorities for protesting the country’s driving ban by driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. She was arrested again in summer 2017 without being charged and was released only to be imprisoned again in the crackdown last spring.

Read the full story at Al Jazeera.

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