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Saudi court adjourns hearing in trial of women activists

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A Saudi court on Wednesday postponed a hearing in the trial of 11 women activists which has drawn international censure, officials said, just days after campaigners reported a new crackdown on their supporters.

The activists, among them Loujain al-Hathloul who has accused her interrogators of sexual abuse and torture during nearly a year in custody, face charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and human rights groups.

A panel of three judges at the Riyadh criminal court had been expected to examine their response to the charges, which was submitted by the women earlier this month.

But policemen at the courthouse turned away Western media and diplomats — already barred from attending previous sessions of the high-profile trial — saying the hearing had been postponed.

No explanation was given and it remains unclear when the trial will resume.

“We learn that the #WomensRightsDefenders trial did not take place today, for reasons that are not known,”ALQST, a London-based human rights group focused on Saudi Arabia, said on Twitter.

Riyadh has faced pressure from Western governments to release the women, most of whom were detained last summer in a wide-ranging crackdown against activists just before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on female motorists.

Three of them — activist Aziza al-Yousef, blogger Eman al-Nafjan and preacher Rokaya al-Mohareb –- have been granted temporary release.

In an apparent crackdown on the women’s supporters earlier this month, Saudi authorities arrested at least nine writers and academics, including two US-Saudi dual nationals.

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