WHEN SAUDI ARABIA came under pressure to release imprisoned women’s rights activists before it hosted this month’s Group of 20 summit, it hinted they might soon be freed. “Clemency” for the women, the kingdom’s ambassador in London said, was being discussed “within our political system and within our ministry.” Now that the summit has passed, the regime is sending a very different message. Last week, four of the women were dragged back into a Riyadh court, and at least one saw her case transferred to the specialized court that handles terrorism and national security cases.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who oversaw the arrest and torture of more than a dozen women’s rights activists in 2018, appears to be doubling down on his persecution of them. He is doing this with the full knowledge that in seven weeks, a U.S. president who has excused or ignored his human rights crimes will be replaced by one who has said that that “dangerous blank check” will be withdrawn. President-elect Joe Biden has said that he will reassess the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and “make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.” The crown prince may be betting that’s a bluff.

The woman whose case was transferred to the Specialized Criminal Court, Loujain al-Hathloul, now 31, was abducted from the United Arab Emirates and later detained at a secret prison, where she was subjected to torture including electric shocks, beatings and sexual assault, according to her family. The abuse was supervised by Saud al-Qahtani, a close aide to Mohammed bin Salman who later organized the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Ms. Hathloul and other female activists were not put on trial until March 2019, nearly a year after the first arrests. The allegations against them had nothing to do with terrorism. A charge sheet reviewed by CNN accused Ms. Hathloul of such “crimes” as meeting with journalists and ambassadors, and applying for a job at the United Nations. Shortly after it began, the trial was suspended; no sessions had been held in more than 18 months when Ms. Hathloul and three other women — Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdulaziz and Nassima al-Sada — were returned to court on Wednesday. According to her family, Ms. Hathloul, who recently staged a hunger strike, was “shaking uncontrollably” at the court session and her voice was “faint and shaky.”

Mohammed bin Salman could send a positive signal to the incoming Biden administration by releasing the women, along with other political prisoners. The renewed court activity suggests he is headed in the opposite direction. At the same time, he appears to be toying with a different kind of opening: According to widespread reports, he met secretly roughly 10 days ago with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While the Trump administration so far has failed to broker a normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, reports from the kingdom say the crown prince may be planning to use such a deal to solidify relations with the Biden administration.

Mr. Biden would surely welcome Saudi recognition of Israel. But he should not allow himself to be deflected from his pledge to hold the regime accountable for its human rights abuses. The new administration should make clear that normal relations between the countries are not possible until the women’s rights activists and other prisoners are freed.

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