Among those in Saudi prisons is University of British Columbia graduate Loujain al-Hathloul. One of the most outspoken women's rights activists in the kingdom, Al-Hathloul was arrested on May 15 and will appear in a special court in Riyadh on Wednesday. There are fears she may face terrorism charges.(Facebook)

Saudi Arabia appears set to ramp up pressure on jailed women dissidents

Amnesty International says it’s time for Ottawa to release the mute button on criticism of Saudi Arabia’s treatment of jailed women dissidents, at least two of whom have close ties to Canada.

University of British Columbia grad Loujain al-Hathloul has been described as one of the most outspoken women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia. She has been detained there since being arrested in May. (Loujain al-Hathloul/Facebook)

One of those women, Loujain al-Hathloul, is scheduled to appear in the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh on Wednesday and activists are extremely worried that the University of British Columbia graduate, will face terrorism charges.

No one knows yet what those proceedings will look like.

Loujain al-Hathloul and her husband, Fahad Albutairi. (Instagram)

Her appearance follows a United Nations Human Rights Council statement last week signed by three dozen countries, including Canada, condemning Saudi Arabia for arresting activists last summer and a somewhat-veiled statement by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland last Friday, International Women’s Day.

It was Freeland, who set off a diplomatic confrontation with Saudi Arabia last summer when she called for the “immediate release” of the activists, who also include another woman with Canadian connections, Samar Badawi, whose brother  is currently in a Saudi prison,

Raif Badawi has been imprisoned since 2012 for his criticism of the regime. He was lashed 50 times in 2015.

Samar Badawi, seen here with former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, right, and former first lady Michelle Obama, left, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in June 2018. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children became Canadian citizens last summer and currently live in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

The City of Montreal made Raif Badawi an honorary citizen last summer.

Amnesty International Canada’s gender rights campaigner, Jacqueline Hansen, is grateful for the support Freeland showed the dissidents last summer but says Ottawa has been muted in its calls since then.

Jacqueline Hansen is Amnesty International Canada’s Major Campaigns and Women’s Rights Campaigner. Her work covers a wide range of human rights concerns in Canada and internationally. (Courtesy: Amnesty International Canada)

“We are so grateful that Canada did speak out,” Hanson told Canadian Press.

“But we want to see Canada continuing to speak out, and speaking out with specificity.”

I spoke by phone with Hansen at her Ottawa office on Monday.

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