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Trial of hunger-striking Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul to resume

Hathloul is set to appear in court on Wednesday, her family has said, the latest in a trial that has gone on nearly two years
Loujain al-Hathloul, imprisoned since May 2018, has been on hunger strike for nearly one month (AFP/File photo)

Prominent women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for more than two years, is set to appear in court on Wednesday, her family has said, nearly a month after she went on hunger strike. 

Hathloul's trial began in March 2019, but campaigners and her family say court sessions are arbitrarily announced and closed to diplomats and journalists, AFP reported. 

"We were just announced that @LoujainHathloul has a trial tomorrow," the activist's sister Lina Hathloul tweeted on Tuesday.

A source close to the activist's family told AFP that judicial authorities did not specify a time for the hearing.

There was no immediate comment from authorities in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that has long faced international criticism for its human rights record, including the imprisonment and execution of dissidents. 

"The only just outcome for this trial would be the immediate and unconditional release of Loujain al-Hathloul," said Lynn Maalouf from Amnesty International.

"She is not a criminal - she is a human rights defender who is being punished simply for daring to advocate for change."

Widespread rights violations

Hathloul, 31, was arrested in May 2018 with about a dozen other women activists just weeks before Saudi Arabia lifted its decades-long ban on female drivers.

Some have been provisionally released, but Hathloul and others remain in detention on what rights groups describe as opaque charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and activist groups.

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The pro-government Saudi media has branded Hathloul and others as "traitors". 

Meanwhile, her family alleges she experienced sexual harassment and torture in detention. Saudi authorities deny the allegations.

The detention of women activists has cast a spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom, which has also faced intense global criticism over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate.

Ahead of this year's G20 summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia, rights groups launched dozens of campaigns calling for the international community to hold the kingdom accountable for such violations. 

Hathloul has been on hunger strike in prison since October 26 to demand regular contact with her family, her siblings said, voicing concern over her frail health.

For months, they said, the activist has been permitted only limited contact with her family.