(New York, NY) – After ten months of hiatus in the legal process, several imprisoned women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia will reportedly face a hearing on the trumped-up cybercrime charges filed against them in March 2019. Among those scheduled to appear Wednesday at the Criminal Court in Riyadh is writer and activist Loujain Al-Hathloul, one of PEN America’s 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write honorees. In a hearing held January 31, according to reports received by PEN America, the prosecutor presented the same charges that were filed in 2019, and tomorrow’s hearing will provide the defendants with the opportunity to respond.

PEN America’s Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs, said the following:

“After almost two years in detention, and lengthy and unexplained delays in the sham trial that began in March 2019, Loujain and her fellow activists will again appear in court, asked to respond to the same absurd charges under the cybercrime law that were presented against them. They have not had access to a lawyer, and have been subjected to torture and other forms of abuse while incarcerated. We condemn this farcical attempt at providing legal legitimacy to an ongoing pattern of brutal repression against those who have used their words and voices to advocate for women’s basic rights. We demand that all charges against them be dropped and that they be released immediately. The Saudi government’s mistreatment of these women is a stain on its record and it should be denied international legitimacy while these brave activists remain behind bars.”

PEN America granted its annual Freedom to Write Award to Al-Hathloul in 2019, alongside fellow writers and activists Nouf Abdulaziz and Eman Al-Nafjan. In May and June 2018, just as the government was lifting the ban on women driving, many activists who had campaigned against the ban and for women’s rights were arrested. The majority remain behind bars and have been subjected to various forms of abuse, including incommunicado detention and credible allegations of torture. PEN America, in partnership with their families and fellow activists, continues to demand the Saudi government to release all three women and allow them to live and work freely.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892