Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul loses appeal against sentence


Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul lost a court appeal against her prison sentence on Wednesday following her provisional release from prison, her family said.

Ms. Hathloul’s sister said a court had upheld her sentence, including a five-year travel ban and other restrictions, for violating a counter-terrorism law although Ms. Hathloul has insisted she committed no crime.

Ms. Hathloul, 31, best known for campaigning against a decades-long Saudi ban on female drivers, was detained in May 2018 with about a dozen other female activists – just weeks before the ban was lifted.

The arrest was seen as part of an apparent crackdown on dissent overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

For the first three months, she was held incommunicado, without access to her family and lawyer.

Human rights organisations later reported accusations that interrogators had tortured her and at least three other women during that time, including with electronic shocks and whippings, and had sexually harassed them. The Saudi government has denied she was mistreated.

Last December, a terrorism tribunal found Ms. Hathloul guilty of “inciting change to the basic ruling regime” and “serving a foreign agenda inside the kingdom by using the internet with the objective of damaging public order”.

Saudi officials said the charges were related to Ms. Hathloul’s contacts with foreign diplomats, media, and activist groups. But UN human rights experts described the charges as “spurious”.

While the judge suspended part of her prison sentence of five years and eight months, paving the way for her release, he warned that the suspension would be annulled if she committed any crimes within the next three years. He also banned her from leaving Saudi Arabia for five years.

At the first appeal hearing last week, Ms. Hathloul was asked by the judge whether she wished to show repentance, according to her brother Walid.

“She replied that she had proven in all her defences that she had not committed any crime based on local and international laws. So, on what basis would she present her repentance?” he wrote on Twitter.

Before Wednesday’s hearing, Ms. Hathloul made her first public comments since she was detained, telling people gathered outside the court: “Let’s hope that the sentence has been changed or modified a little bit.”

But her sister Lina later tweeted: “UPDATE: The judges confirmed the first sentencing of @LoujainHathloul, which means SA confirms considering the UK, the EU, and the Netherlands ‘terrorist entities’ and contacting them a ‘terrorist act’. #FreeLoujain.”

There was no immediate comment from Saudi authorities. (Source: BBC)