Three Saudi women on trial with eight others for charges relating to human rights activism have been released on bail.
Saudi Arabia release Three women on trial for human rights activism as Foreign observers welcomed the move to temporarily release Aziza al-Yousef, Dr Rokaya Mohareb and Eman Al-Nafjan. The rest of the women are expected to be bailed on Sunday.
All eleven had appeared before a judge in Riyadh on Wednesday for a second hearing in the trial. They laid out their defence and spoke of physical and sexual abuse they say they were subjected to by masked interrogators.
Most of them have been in detention since a sweep by authorities in May 2018 against female activists who had pushed for the right to drive and called for an end to restrictive male guardianship laws.
The Saudi public prosecutor’s office has previously said that the eleven women undertook “coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom”.
On Wednesday, the women sat next to their relatives in Riyadh’s criminal court as they addressed the presiding judge, according to details provided to the Associated Press.
One of the women told the panel of three judges that several men, who seemed intoxicated, appeared late one night and took her from her place of detention in Jiddah to a nearby secret location.
There, the women have said they were caned on their backs and thighs, electrocuted and waterboarded by masked men who did not identify themselves, the AP reported.
Some women say they were forcibly touched and groped, made to break their fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and threatened with rape and death. One of the women reportedly attempted suicide.
Journalists working for foreign media, diplomats and other independent observers have not been allowed to sit in on the hearings.
Their trial has intensified criticism of the kingdom over human rights following global outrage over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi agents last October.
Three dozen countries, including all 28 EU members, Canada and Australia, have previously called on Riyadh to free the activists.
The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, both raised the issue during recent visits to Riyadh.
“This is a long overdue step as these women should never have been jailed in the first place and their release should certainly not be on a ‘temporary’ basis,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of research.
In a statement on Thursday the Riyadh criminal court said: “The court will continue to hear their cases and attend the hearings. The trial is ongoing until the final verdict is reached.”