Prominent Saudi dissident and women’s rights activist Loujain Al-Hathloul, has been released from prison after nearly three years behind bars, following a concerted campaign by her relatives and global rights groups.
The imprisonment of Ms. Hathloul, 31, has sparked international uproar and been dismissed as “a travesty of justice” by human rights groups, while the charges against her has been called by UN human rights experts as “spurious”.
She was detained in 2018 and was sentenced last December by the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh under counterterrorism laws to nearly six years in prison but the court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, most of which had already been served.
Her sister Lina published a photo of a smiling Loujain on Twitter early evening Riyadh time, the first image of her outside of prison, with the accompanying message saying “Loujain is at home !!!!!!”.
She added: “Thank you to each and every one of you who have been supporting us these 1001 days. Loujain is at home, but she is not free. The fight is not over. I am not fully happy without the release of all political prisoners.”
Ms. Hathloul, who alleges she has been tortured behind bars, will be subject to a five-year travel ban and will be put on probation.
Saudi Arabia is under pressure to improve its human rights record, including releasing women’s rights activists and other political prisoners, after the inauguration of President Joe Biden and the White House said earlier this month that Washington will take a firmer line with Riyadh.
In response to her release, US President Joe Biden said it was “the right thing to do”. France’s President Emmanuel Macron, in a tweet, said he “welcomed” the news.
Ms. Hathloul was detained during a sweep of arrests of women’s rights activists three years ago and convicted on charges including seeking to change the Saudi political system and harming national unity.
Ms. Hathloul campaigned for women’s right to drive and to end the kingdom’s oppressive male guardianship system.
Her family said she was subjected to abuse, including electric shocks, waterboarding, flogging and sexual assault.
Amnesty welcomed Ms. Hathloul’s release from prison after “a harrowing ordeal”, adding Saudi Arabia “must ensure those responsible for her torture and other ill-treatment are brought to justice”.
The Saudi authorities have repeatedly denied the accusations and an appeals court dismissed her claim that she was tortured in jail, citing a lack of evidence, her family said on Tuesday.
Calling Ms. Hathloul a “hero” and “inspiration to us all” Lucy Rae, a spokesperson for human rights group Grant Liberty, warned that the international community should not assume her release “signals the end of the oppression of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia”.
Several women activists who were arrested around the same time as Ms. Hathloul remain behind bars, including Samar Badawi, Nour Abdulaziz and Nassima al-Sadah.
They said rights defender Fatima al-Nassif, who was arrested in 2017, is in prison because she bandaged the wounded at a protest, while Israa al-Ghomgham faced the death penalty for peaceful protest.
The group said Khadija al-Harbi, a Saudi author, was arrested when pregnant and forced to give birth in prison after campaigning for equality. (Source: The Independent)