Saudi court ‘secretly’ hands 11-year sentence to women's rights activist

A Saudi court has recently sentenced women's rights activist Manahel al-Otaibi to 11 years in prison in a "secret hearing", according to two human rights groups who denounced the ruling as contradictory to the kingdom’s “narrative of reform and women’s empowerment”.

Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has carefully crafted an image of an open, transformed and glamorous society where women can now drive, female dress codes have been relaxed and the government has invested hugely in sports and entertainment.

But over the last two years the government has convicted and sentenced dozens of people for expressing their views against the authorities online, according to a statement published Tuesday by human rights groups.

In the statement, Amnesty International and ALQST, a London-based Saudi rights organisation, called for the immediate and unconditional release of Manahel al-Otaibi, a 29-year-old fitness instructor and women’s rights activist who was sentenced to 11 years in prison by a Saudi court on January 9.

The court's decision only emerged publicly in Saudi Arabia's formal reply to a request from the United Nations human rights office about Otaibi's case, Amnesty said in a statement on Tuesday.

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