DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Three Saudi women’s rights activists have been temporarily released after 10 months in prison, sources familiar with the case told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Two people told the AP that Aziza al-Yousef, a grandmother and former professor; Eman al-Nafjan, a mother of four and linguistics professor, and a third woman were released and at least one of the women was already home with her family.
Loujain al-Hathloul, another outspoken rights activist, was not among the three.
The releases came a day after nearly a dozen Saudi women’s rights activists appeared before a three-judge panel in a Riyadh courtroom and laid out their defense. They also spoke of physical and sexual abuse they say they were subjected to by masked interrogators.
Thursday marked the first time the three women have been released from detention since May of last year.
The arrests came a few weeks before women were granted the right to drive and were seen as a way for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to take full credit for reforms that the women had long pushed for, and as a message to Saudis that the women’s rights activism did not lead to change.
The women, who appeared Wednesday in their second court session since their arrests in May, had long pushed for the right to drive and called for an end to restrictive male guardianship laws. The laws require women of all ages to have a male relative’s consent to travel abroad, obtain a passport, marry or undergo certain medical procedures.
Several people with knowledge of the cases have said the charges against the women relate to their efforts to promote women’s rights and having contact with accredited foreign reporters, diplomats and human rights groups.
On Wednesday, the women sat next to their relatives in Riyadh’s criminal court as they addressed the presiding judge who sat before them, according to details provided to the AP.
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. 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 attempted suicide.
Journalists working for foreign media, diplomats and other independent observers have not been allowed to sit-in on the hearings.