Saudi Arabia temporarily frees three women's rights activists

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir insists the detention of several female activists is a matter of national security

Rokaya al-Muhareb, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Nafjan were arrested and detained previous year as part of a crackdown on dissent.

Some of the detained women have appealed for bail, with the judges expected to make a decision on Thursday, family members told AFP.

Saudi officials have repeatedly accused the women of links to foreign intelligence agencies, while state-backed media branded them traitors and "agents of embassies".

The detainees are facing charges related to human rights work and contacts with foreign journalists and diplomats, with one woman - Loujain al-Hathloul - charged because she applied for a job with the United Nations.

Among them are Aziza al-Yousef, grandmother and former professor al-Nafjan, a mother of four and linguistics professor, and Loujain al-Hathloul an outspoken rights activist who was pursuing a master's degree in the United Arab Emirates before her family says she was abducted and forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia a year ago.

Since Khashoggi's grisly murder, the imprisonment of the women activists has drawn widespread criticism from members of the U.S. Congress, the British Parliament and other Western capitals.

Nine US Senators last week wrote a public letter to King Salman calling for the activists to be released.

All 11 had appeared before a judge in Riyadh on Wednesday for a second hearing in the trial.

Four of the women have alleged they were tortured whilst in detention, while the brother of one jailed activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, recently told CNN his sister had described being regularly whipped, beaten, electrocuted and sexually abused in a basement she called the "palace of terror".

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Several people with knowledge of the cases say the charges for the almost dozen women relate to their efforts to promote women's rights and sharing information with accredited foreign reporters, diplomats and human rights groups.

Prior to their arrest, several women said they received calls from an aide to Prince Mohammed telling them not to speak to foreign media outlets. They had also advocated for domestic abuse survivors. In total, more than 20 people have been detained in connection to women's rights activism.

The women activists had long pushed for the right to drive.

They also called for an end to restrictive male guardianship laws, which give male relatives final say over a woman's ability to travel overseas, obtain a passport, marry or undergo certain medical procedures.

Dr Hala al-Dosari, a Saudi human rights activist and scholar at the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University, called for "an end to the constant criminalisation and targeting of activists, and an adoption of a safe space for the Saudi society to effectively engage in their own affairs".

Informed sources identified the three women as blogger Eman al-Nafjan, academic Aziza al-Yousef, who is in her 60s, and Ruqayya al-Mohareb, a conservative preacher detained in an earlier crackdown on clerics and intellectuals.

The three women are among 11 women on trial after being charged under the country's cyber-crimes law, which can carry a sentence of up to five years in jail. It was there that the women say they were tortured.

Journalists working for foreign media, diplomats and other independent observers have not been allowed to sit-in on the hearings.

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, according to people with knowledge of the case. One of the women attempted suicide, according to information provided to the AP by people with knowledge of the cases.

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