Maximum jail sentence sought for Saudi female activist Loujain al-Hathloul


Saudi Arabia’s state prosecutor is seeking the maximum possible jail sentence of 20 years behind bars for women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, in a hearing at Saudi Arabia’s notorious terrorism court on Wednesday.

The court judge said he would deliver a verdict and possible sentencing in the case on Monday, according to Hathloul’s sister Lina.

The Specialized Criminal Court(SCC), which often hands down lengthy prison sentences to human rights activists following grossly unfair trials, opened al-Hathloul’s case on December 10, International Human Rights Day.

Later on Wednesday night, however, Loujain’s parents, who act as her legal team, received a text message summoning them to SCC on Thursday morning. It is not yet clear what this development means for Hathloul’s case, which was transferred from the criminal court to the terrorism court last month.

“My sister must be released … All she has done is ask for women to be treated with the dignity and freedom that should be their right. For that, the Saudi authorities are seeking the maximum sentence available under the law – 20 years in prison,” said Lina al-Hathloul.

“They say she is a terrorist – in reality she is a humanitarian, an activist and a woman who simply wants a better fairer world.”

Hathloul, 31, is one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent human rights activists. She has been arrested and detained several times for defying the country’s ban on women driving and for campaigning for an end to the male guardianship system, which makes women second-class citizens.

She was kidnapped and arrested along with several other activists in May 2018, just before the law on women driving was changed, in what was interpreted as a message from the Saudi leadership that reform in the ultra-conservative kingdom can only come from the top down.

Since then, relatives say Hathloul has been sexually assaulted, tortured with beatings and electric shocks, and held incommunicado for long periods of time. Several hunger strike attempts have also led a UN women’s rights committee to express alarm about her failing health.

After being tried in Riyadh’s criminal court on spurious charges including destabilising national security and working with foreign entities against the state, Hathloul’s case was transferred in November to the SCC.

Amnesty International alleges that the secretive body routinely hands down lengthy jail sentences and death sentences to those who defy the country’s absolute monarchy and obtains confessions under torture.

“A regime that sees women’s activism as terrorism is deeply broken. There is no moral or legal case for [activists’] continued imprisonment, and their prolonged incarceration is not even in the narrow interests of the Saudi regime,” said Lucy Rae, a spokesperson for the human rights advocacy body Grant Liberty, which campaigns on behalf of Saudi prisoners of conscience.

“Saudi Arabia will never rehabilitate its reputation while it continues to imprison and torture those who campaign for basic freedoms.”

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, faces growing international criticism for its human rights record, even as US President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration could intensify scrutiny of its human rights failings. (Source: The Guardian)