Saudi Arabia began the trial of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul on Wednesday, with a prison sentence of up to 20 years reportedly on the line, at the same time Iran was throwing human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh in prison for 38 years plus a savage whipping.
Hathloul was one of the most prominent women caught in a Saudi crackdown on women’s activists last summer, ironically just a few weeks before women were given the right to drive automobiles the activists had long crusaded for.
The charges against her have not been made public, but Saudi media reports said she is accused of “suspicious contact with foreign entities.” Some state media organs have portrayed her as guilty of supporting terrorism or committing treason.
Her brother told CNN this week that Hathloul has not been told what she is accused of and has not been given access to a lawyer. A scheduled terrorism trial was abruptly canceled just hours before it was scheduled to begin and she was reclassified as a criminal defendant.
Hathloul also told her brother she has been “whipped, beaten, electrocuted, and sexually harassed” in custody, echoing charges made by other imprisoned human rights activists and denied by the Saudi government.
Over in Iran, Nasrin Sotoudeh’s legal career includes representing women who protested the compulsory headscarf law. She was convicted in a characteristically opaque legal process of “colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “insulting” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Her punishment will include a total of 38 years in prison plus 148 lashes.
One of Sotoudeh’s clients, a woman named Shaparak Shajarizadeh who was persecuted for removing her headscarf in public, pleaded for international help in Time magazine on Wednesday.
“When I was in prison, Nasrin was my only hope. She did everything in her power to liberate me. I’m only able to raise my voice freely today because of her tireless advocacy on my behalf,” Shajarizadeh wrote.
“The world must instead send a clear message: Iran will not be treated as an equal member of the international community if it does not treat women as equal members of humanity. They certainly must not be allowed to lead in these institutions, so long as women leaders like Nasrin languish in prison,” she urged.
Sotoudeh’s husband said on Monday that she will not appeal her sentence because she does not wish to confer legitimacy on Iran’s barbaric legal system, and because she fears her lawyers would be persecuted for representing her.