Saudi Arabia urged to release women’s rights activists by European envoys

Seven European human rights ambassadors criticized Saudi Arabia on Sunday over the continued detention of at least five women’s rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, whose case has been referred to a special court for terrorism offenses. 



Loujain Alhathloul posing for a photo: Loujain al-Hathloul, right, is pictured with her sister Lina al-Hathloul around five months before her arrest in May 2018.


© Courtesy of Lina al-Hathloul
Loujain al-Hathloul, right, is pictured with her sister Lina al-Hathloul around five months before her arrest in May 2018.

Hathloul appeared in a Saudi court on Wednesday, as her trial was scheduled to start after 900 days in pre-trial detention.

The court instead referred the case to the Specialized Criminal Court for terrorism and national security cases, according to a statement from her family and supporters, sent to CNN.

The case of another women’s rights activist, Samar Badawi, has also been referred to the special court. Three others — Nassima al-Sada, Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani — remain in detention, according to human rights group Amnesty International. 

“We remain deeply concerned by the continued detention of at least five women’s right activists in Saudi Arabia. We regret that the cases of Loujain Al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi have now been referred to the Special Criminal Court for terrorism and national security cases,” human rights ambassadors for the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Estonia, Luxembourg and Finland said in a statement.

Hathloul, 31, was jailed in May 2018 during a sweep that targeted prominent opponents of the kingdom’s former law barring women from driving. The crackdown happened just weeks before the ban was lifted, casting doubt on a reform agenda put forward by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The court she appeared in on Wednesday said it would investigate Hathloul’s allegations of torture in prison, according to the family’s statement. Saudi authorities have repeatedly denied allegations of torture and sexual abuse in their prisons. A new trial date hasn’t been announced yet.   

Badawi had also campaigned against the driving ban and against the imprisonment of her former husband, rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, as well as her brother, blogger Raif Badawi. 

“Peaceful activism, and advocating for women’s rights is not a crime. Human rights defenders can be a strong partner for governments in addressing concerns within society,” the ambassadors said.

“We join the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteurs and Treaty Bodies in reiterating our call for the release of all political detainees, including the women’s rights activists.”

CNN has reached out to the Saudi government for a response. 

In an interview with CNN’s Nic Robertson earlier this month, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Jubeir said Hathloul’s case “was up to the courts” and that “she’s on trial for matters related to national security.”

An Amnesty International representative for the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf, said the Specialized Criminal Court was “an institution used to silence dissent and notorious for issuing lengthy prison sentences following seriously flawed trials.”

“This is yet another sign that Saudi Arabia’s claims of reform on human rights are a farce,” Maalouf said. 

In a six-page charge sheet for Hathloul’s case, seen by

Read more

Shopping Mall Activists Score an Early Win

Trans-Atlantic mall giant
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield
has pulled back from the brink. Finding a lasting fix for its debt problem will be more challenging.

Late Wednesday, Europe’s largest listed-property company by assets said it had issued bonds worth €2 billion, equivalent to $2.4 billion: one with a six-year maturity and coupon of 0.625% and an 11-year bond at 1.375%. Half of the cash will be used to refinance existing debt. The size and low cost of the issue is a win for activist investors who have been pushing for a new approach.

Along with French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel, Unibail’s former chief executive Léon Bressler successfully persuaded investors to vote against a controversial €3.5 billion equity raise two weeks ago. Back then, Unibail’s chairman and chief executive warned that unless shareholders stumped up, the company could lose access to bond markets. Both men have since been ousted, with Mr. Bressler taking over as chairman.

News that a Covid-19 vaccine will soon be available helped the activists’ case. The yield on Unibail’s outstanding bonds has increased slightly since investors voted against the capital raise, but remains much lower than during the March selloff.

The new debt will come on top of net borrowings already equivalent to 12 times the earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization Unibail generated last year. To get that number down, the activists want Unibail to sell underperforming Westfield malls in the U.S. But with the rise of e-commerce weighing on the value of stores, it may be hard to find buyers at an acceptable price.

The company may still raise equity. Unibail’s shares have rallied 85% since
Pfizer
said its vaccine is effective. Under the old management’s plan to raise €3.5 billion, shareholders would have been diluted by 37%, according to
UBS.
At today’s higher share price, that dilution falls to 28%. Unibail needs to keep bond markets sweet: Any increase in the cost of debt would make it harder to refinance its €29 billion of total borrowings.

Mr. Bressler has been correct so far, but more difficult decisions are still to come.

Write to Carol Ryan at [email protected]

Source Article

Read more

Saudi women’s rights activist’s trial moved to terrorism court

Saudi Arabia has moved the trial of activist Loujain al-Hathloul to a special court that handles terrorism cases, a move condemned by human rights campaigners as a heavy-handed attempt to muzzle dissent.



Loujain Alhathloul smiling for the camera: Photograph: Reuters


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Reuters

Hathloul has been in jail without trial for over 900 days now, and her family said she looked weak and unwell at a rare court appearance on Wednesday, her body shaking and her voice faint, her family said.

She appeared with three other women who were also arrested in 2018, shortly before the government dropped its long-standing ban on women drivers; Hathloul had been a prominent face of the grassroots campaign for change.

The court appearance came just after Saudi Arabia wrapped up its role as virtual host of this year’s G20 summit, which had women’s empowerment as one of its themes.

Her trial was expected to begin on Wednesday, but the judge’s decision to hand over her case to the “specialised criminal court” means further delays, and represents an escalation of the state’s case against her. It is unclear if the cases of the other women in the dock have also been moved.



Loujain Alhathloul smiling for the camera: Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was in court on Wednesday.


© Photograph: Reuters
Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was in court on Wednesday.

“We’re very concerned about the use of this court, because it is supposed to look into cases of terrorism. It is not the place to try peaceful human rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul,” said Hashem Hashem, regional campaigner for Amnesty International.

“We are concerned that this transfer is to further muzzle peaceful and critical voices and to punish activists such as Loujain for demanding change and reform.”

The charges against Hathloul appear almost entirely related to her campaigning. Offences include speaking to journalists, diplomats and international activist groups, sources who saw the charge sheets, which have not been made public, have told campaign group Human Rights Watch.

Her family and rights groups say she has been tortured in jail, and recently she has been held incommunicado for long periods.

She went on hunger strike in late October in protest, but after two weeks prison guards started waking her up every two hours which left her “psychologically exhausted” and she halted the strike, said her sister Lina al-Hathloul.

Hathloul’s trial has been delayed before, and Lina said the family is frustrated by constant postponements, pointing out that the presiding judge had been dealing with the case for a year and eights months before announcing he did not have jurisdiction.

“We are disappointed but not surprised,” Lina told the Guardian. “Every decision from the beginning has been made impulsively and illegally. I know they are trying to break her but we won’t ever give up on her.”

The outgoing US president, Donald Trump, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have been close allies, their bond helping blunt international scrutiny of the country’s handling of dissent and Saudi Arabia’s bloody intervention in Yemen.

The looming transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden will likely

Read more

Activists Discuss Their Hopes For The Future At The NYC LGBT Center Women’s Event

On Thursday evening, at the New York City LGBT Center Women’s Event, a panel of LGBTQ activists discussed the sweeping change they hope to see under the Biden/Harris administration.

“I would love them to repeal all Trump executive orders,” began Urvashi Vaid, an attorney and longtime activist, “And replace them with proactive executive orders that advance LGBTQ people’s lives and freedom, [and] that advance racial justice, gender equity, and create economic opportunity for everybody.”

Alicia Garza, co-creator of Black Lives Matter and Supermajority, added that after nine months of the pandemic, “immediate relief and recovery” is vital.

“What I would like to see,” said Garza, “is a setting of the tone at the federal level for what states and cities across the nation should be doing in terms of reallocating funding from a punishment economy to an economy that’s built on care.”

“What I know,” she continued, “is that we don’t have the basic infrastructure that we need to live, much less to live well, and I think the federal government can actually make the federal budget a moral document that identifies that there are new priorities in this new phase of this country, and those priorities again should be our communities.”

The panel also emphasized the role people of color have long played in the fight for progressive change in the United States, and discussed how it is time for those in power to more greatly acknowledge those contributions.

“Black women have always carried the Democratic party,” said LaLa Zannell, community organizer and Trans Justice Campaign Manager for the ACLU.

“We have always been at the forefront of any organizing. I just would like to see…the Bidens and the folks in power start to acknowledge our contributions, because erasure is real.”

Queer people of color have also always carried the LGBTQ rights movement, Zannell added, declaring that there are activists like Bamby Salcedo who should be known for pushing politicians on key issues and working to increase LGBTQ voter turnout.

It is not only the federal government that has work to do, though. The panel also discussed the importance of fighting for equity at the state and local levels.  

“Local and state politics offer me this little umbrella,” said Cecilia Gentili, a former asylum seeker from Argentina and founder of Transgender Equity Consulting. “If the federal Government is throwing a rock at me, I have an umbrella that is the state and the city.”

As such, Gentili said investing in local leadership is one of her biggest priorities.

“We really have to work hard on what the state and the city’s going to look like, and I think we have to finally redefine what progressiveness looks like.”

New Yorkers, Gentili went on, are too comfortable using the term progressive in a state that continues to criminalize marginalized communities.

Zannell added that for Black trans women, who experience some of the most extreme marginalization in the country, the fight for

Read more

Thai women and pride activists march for democracy and equality

Thai feminists and LGBTQ activists marched to one of Bangkok’s nightlife districts on Saturday, insisting the fight for equality goes hand-in-hand with a broader push for greater democracy.

A rainbow banner hundreds of metres long snaked its way through central Bangkok towards Silom during the pride parade, which attracted a diverse crowd of close to 1,500 according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

Since July there have been frequent protests in the Thai capital, with demonstrators demanding a new constitution, reforms of the monarchy and for Prayut Chan-O-Cha to resign as prime minister.

Saturday’s rally canvased a broad range of issues including “slut-shaming”, access to safe abortions and legalising sex work, while transgender activists had signs saying: “I’m not abnormal”.

Sirisak Chaited, a sex worker rights activist, marched wearing a towel emblazoned with the slogan “My body my business”.

“Sex work is not a crime, sex worker rights are human rights,” he said.

A flash mob of high school students danced to K-pop, Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Taylor Swift along the parade route.

Some had messages such as “Stop sexual harassment” written in text on their legs. 

Many wore elaborate makeup and movie character costumes, while one woman stripped down to her underwear, scrawled with feminist messages.

Architect Hino, 23, who declined to give her full name, said Thai society had a lot of work to do when it came to gender equality.

“Power is not just for men,” she said.

“Thai men like to criticise women for how many men they’ve slept with but they don’t have the same (scrutiny) themselves,” Natcha, 25, told AFP. 

The LGBTQ community has been a visible force at protests calling for the overhaul of Thailand’s government

The kingdom has a vibrant LGBTQ scene and while gender-bending performers are a prominent part of Bangkok’s nightlife, discrimination in schools and the workplace is still rife.

Achita Kittiwannakul, 22, dressed as the character Mulan, said calls for society to respect the rights of minorities aligned with the campaign to shake up Thailand’s democracy.

“We are not happy in this country; the LGBTQ community is suffering,” he told AFP.

“I believe in equality, peace, and for everyone to be able to live happily.”

On Sunday protesters will return to the streets with a major rally scheduled at the Democracy Monument intersection, with a heavy police presence expected.

bur-lpm-dhc/fox

Source Article

Read more

Two young Black women Chicago activists are at the center of the new documentary ‘Unapologetic’

CHICAGO — When filmmaker Ashley O’Shay began work on her documentary “Unapologetic,” two Chicago police killings were at the forefront of efforts for accountability and reform: That of Rekia Boyd, the 22-year-old Black woman who was fatally shot in the back of the head by Dante Servin, an off-duty police detective, and Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old Black teenager who was shot and killed by Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

The lives and work of two young Black women activists, Janaé Bonsu and Ambrell Gambrell (who raps under the name Bella Bahhs), are at the center of “Unapologetic,” which has its Chicago premiere this week and will be available to stream through Nov. 20 as part of the Siskel Film Center’s all-virtual edition of its annual Black Harvest Film Festival.

The documentary’s opening scene is a tremendous piece of observational filmwork and journalism, as it follows a group of Black activists into Chicago-area brunch spots that are filled with white diners. “While you are here celebrating over brunch, Black families are struggling to keep themselves safe from CPD,” they chant.

Every white person looks uncomfortable. One is barely stifling an embarrassed smirk. Another has guilty tears in her eyes. Others just look on impassively and unmoved.

“They went to about five or six restaurants in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on New Year’s Day in 2016. And they went in for about 10 or 15 minutes at a time,” said O’Shay. “Because of the way equity and segregation are set up in our city, you can live on the North Side and be completely oblivious to something like that, when on the other side of town it’s all people are being confronted with.”

Eventually the police are called. A restaurant employee wearing an elf sweater tells an officer: “This guy right here was real sarcastic with me, this lady as well, as I was trying to get them out of here, so they just disrupted the brunch of about 200 people.” Later he asks, “What is this helping, though?” An activist off-camera recipes, “We think it’s very important.” The employee’s response: “Really, to disrupt everyone’s brunch? No, we all have TV. We watch the news.”

It’s a moment that encapsulates the white apathy activists like Bonsu and Bahhs are pushing back against. As the film illustrates, the Movement for Black Lives has been building for years on their work and the work of many others.

For example, O’Shay captures footage of a Chicago Police Board meeting — where Lori Lightfoot presides in the years before she became mayor — as activists push for Servin to be fired. (He would eventually resign before that hearing process could begin, which meant his pension was unaffected.)

“Those police board meetings, when young Black organizers went to try to actively get Dante Servin off the police force, nobody was going to those before 2015. As much as people think that this (the protests of the past several months) kind of came out of

Read more

Critics slam ‘shameless hypocrisy’ of Saudi G20 meeting as women activists sit in jail

Human rights groups and democracy activists are calling on diplomats, politicians and blue chip companies like HSBC, Mastercard and PepsiCo to boycott a business conference launching this week in Saudi Arabia.

As current chair of the Group of 20 major economies, or G20, Saudi Arabia will be hosting the B20 business event from Monday, ahead of the summit of world leaders in November.

The virtual business event promises to place a “special emphasis” on “creating a more equitable future for women in the business world,” but rights groups say that flies in the face of the reality on the ground in the Persian Gulf kingdom, which has imprisoned women’s rights activists.

“Saudi Arabia’s real change-makers are behind bars,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Leaders must not be fooled by this shameless hypocrisy, and we call on them to show they care about human rights as much as business opportunities.”

Saudi authorities arrested at least a dozen female activists in 2018, and rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say some have faced abuses while imprisoned, including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault.

Saudi Arabia has strenuously denied the allegations. Government officials did not respond to requests for comment.

NBC News also approached HSBC, Mastercard, PepsiCo and other companies scheduled to attend for comment. At the time of publication, none had responded.

Image: Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. (Marieke Wijntjes / Reuters file)
Image: Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. (Marieke Wijntjes / Reuters file)

Among the women who were detained is Loujain al-Hathloul, who was imprisoned after she campaigned for women to drive. Women’s rights blogger Nouf Abdulaziz is also behind bars, as is Nassima al-Sada, who has worked to end the male guardianship system, which required a male relative’s permission for women to travel or marry, among other things.

Al-Hathloul’s sister Lina announced the creation of a new website in honor of her sister on Monday morning, highlighting the activist’s detention and work in winning Saudi women’s right to drive and dismantling parts of the maleguardianship laws.

While Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — widely seen as the power behind the throne — has presented himself as a reformer, eager to transform the deeply conservative society, he has also presided over sweeping crackdowns on dissent, arresting intellectuals, clerics, women’s rights activists and members of the vast royal family.

A prominent critic of the crown prince, Madawi Al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, welcomed the calls for a boycott.

“The G20 offers the Saudi regime a platform towards the most economically powerful countries to normalize its repression of the population,” she said, adding that the Saudi regime had “lost all its credibility and legitimacy.”

Image: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Saudi Royal Palace / AFP - Getty Images file)
Image: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Saudi Royal Palace / AFP – Getty Images file)

As part of the B20 event, the world’s largest oil exporter said it would also create an “Action Council” to develop policy recommendations about issues such as gender

Read more

Yemen Activists Want to Preserve Country’s Beauty Beyond War | Voice of America

While the conflict in Yemen continues to make headlines, a group of 16 Yemeni volunteers is seeking to put the war-torn country in a positive light by presenting its rich history and culture.

The activists started their initiative, Yemen Used to Be, in 2019 on social media platforms and recently launched a website to expand their outreach. With the motto “There’s no present without a past, and there’ll be no fruitful future if its seeds aren’t planted in the present,” the group says it wants to change the way people think about Yemen.

“We felt that it is part of our responsibility to make people see Yemen’s beauty as we Yemenis see it,” Waleed al-Ward, a member of the initiative, told VOA. “We want to introduce the beauty of our country to the world.”

Al-Ward, 23, an undergraduate art and design student at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, works online with the group’s other members across Yemen to collect the stories of the country’s citizens. The team also introduces Yemeni artwork, culture and historical achievements through documentaries.

Online project grows

Ahmed Alhagri, a Yemeni photographer and moviemaker who founded the group in 2019, began the project by simply sharing content on Instagram and Facebook. He soon found wide support from people inside Yemen and around the Arab world. Many urged him to collaborate with artists and storytellers across Yemen to preserve its national heritage.

Prior to the formation and official launch of the initiative, Alhagri and al-Ward were in Sanaa, where they organized workshops to introduce locals to their history and Yemeni traditions. Their work stopped quickly in 2015 when the civil war that began in late 2014 shut down most cultural and historical sites.

Volunteers Want World to See Different Side of Yemen

Art, history of war-torn country highlighted in digital campaign

A part of the team’s effort now is to spread awareness among regular Yemenis about the importance of preserving their artifacts.

“We believe that such realization of the importance of the shared history among Yemenis will help erase the contentions among Yemenis,” al-Ward said.

The group is working to build an archive of key Yemeni historical sites, influential figures, former traditions and native foods. To make sure their audience is well-engaged, they accompany their stories with graphic illustrations based on evidence from Yemeni websites, local libraries, and interviews with experts and local Yemenis.

Chronicling heritage

One of the group’s projects involved documenting the traditions of Jewish weddings in Yemen that have been lost throughout the decades. The team obtained some old footage of the celebrations from abandoned videos on Yemeni Jewish songs, clothes, food and rituals. They say the rendered videos are presented to the Yemeni public to show the beauty of diversity and coexistence in the history of their country.

“The song in the video is a folk song in Yemen, and it is performed by a Jewish artist with Yemeni origins, Ofra Haza,” al-Ward said.

Jews are believed to have lived in

Read more

Yemen Activists Want to Preserve Yemen’s Beauty Beyond War | Voice of America

While the conflict in Yemen continues to make headlines, a group of 16 Yemeni volunteers is seeking to put the war-torn country in a positive light by presenting its rich history and culture.

The activists started their initiative, Yemen Used to Be, in 2019 on social media platforms and recently launched a website to expand their outreach. With the motto “There’s no present without a past, and there’ll be no fruitful future if its seeds aren’t planted in the present,” the group says it wants to change the way people think about Yemen.

“We felt that it is part of our responsibility to make people see Yemen’s beauty as we Yemenis see it,” Waleed al-Ward, a member of the initiative, told VOA. “We want to introduce the beauty of our country to the world.”

Al-Ward, 23, an undergraduate art and design student at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, works online with the group’s other members across Yemen to collect the stories of the country’s citizens. The team also introduces Yemeni artwork, culture and historical achievements through documentaries.

Online project grows

Ahmed Alhagri, a Yemeni photographer and moviemaker who founded the group in 2019, began the project by simply sharing content on Instagram and Facebook. He soon found wide support from people inside Yemen and around the Arab world. Many urged him to collaborate with artists and storytellers across Yemen to preserve its national heritage.

Prior to the formation and official launch of the initiative, Alhagri and al-Ward were in Sanaa, where they organized workshops to introduce locals to their history and Yemeni traditions. Their work stopped quickly in 2015 when the civil war that began in late 2014 shut down most cultural and historical sites.

Volunteers Want World to See Different Side of Yemen

Art, history of war-torn country highlighted in digital campaign

A part of the team’s effort now is to spread awareness among regular Yemenis about the importance of preserving their artifacts.

“We believe that such realization of the importance of the shared history among Yemenis will help erase the contentions among Yemenis,” al-Ward said.

The group is working to build an archive of key Yemeni historical sites, influential figures, former traditions and native foods. To make sure their audience is well-engaged, they accompany their stories with graphic illustrations based on evidence from Yemeni websites, local libraries, and interviews with experts and local Yemenis.

Chronicling heritage

One of the group’s projects involved documenting the traditions of Jewish weddings in Yemen that have been lost throughout the decades. The team obtained some old footage of the celebrations from abandoned videos on Yemeni Jewish songs, clothes, food and rituals. They say the rendered videos are presented to the Yemeni public to show the beauty of diversity and coexistence in the history of their country.

“The song in the video is a folk song in Yemen, and it is performed by a Jewish artist with Yemeni origins, Ofra Haza,” al-Ward said.

Jews are believed to have lived in

Read more