Saudi court sentences women’s rights activist to five years in prison


Loujain al-Hathloul, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists charged with damaging the kingdom’s national security and trying to alter its political structure, was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison on Monday.

Ms. Hathloul, who campaigned for women to have the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, has already been in pre-trial detention since May 2018 and has endured several stretches of solitary confinement.

The Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh, which was set up to deal with terror cases, convicted the 31-year-old of spying for foreign parties and conspiring against the kingdom.

But the court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, and backdated the start of her jail term to the time already served, meaning she only has around two months left to serve.

However, Ms Hathloul’s family says they still intend to appeal the conviction.

Lina al-Hathloul, her younger sister, said the campaigner will appeal the sentence and ask for another investigation into the alleged torture she has endured.

The Nobel peace prize nominee alleges she has been tortured in prison, though these claims have been denied by Saudi Arabia.

“After nearly three years in pre-trial detention and now five weeks of a rushed trial process in the Specialised Criminal Court, my sister Loujain was sentenced. She was charged, tried and convicted using counter-terrorism laws,” the younger sister said.

“To be sentenced for her activism and for the very reforms that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and the Saudi kingdom so proudly tout is the ultimate hypocrisy.”

“Loujain and my parents, who are her lawyers, were given little time to prepare, so it is hard to understand how this trial process is a fair one.  My sister is not a terrorist; she is an activist. My sister is the bravest person I know,” continued Lina al-Hathloul.

She said that although the family were “devastated” that the activist would be forced to “spend even one more day in prison”, their fight was “far from over”, adding that they “will not rest until Loujain is free”.

Ms Hathloul, who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2019, peacefully campaigned for years alongside other activists to give women the right to drive.

The University of British Columbia graduate had previously been arrested and released several times for defying the driving ban in the highly Conservative country.

Ms Hathloul, who recently launched a hunger strike over her jail conditions, was arrested with 10 other women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia in May 2018 – weeks before the kingdom reversed the driving ban.

Lucy Rae, a spokesperson for human rights charity Grant Liberty, a human rights charity, told The Independent that the sentencing of Ms Hathloul was an “international outrage”.

She said: “Loujain is a peaceful campaigner for the basic freedoms the rest of the world takes for granted. In response she has been imprisoned, tortured and abused by the Saudi authorities – yet they call her the terrorist.

“It is the Saudi regime that rules by terror. The international community must not let this stand. If human rights mean anything more than words on a page – it’s time for real action. Loujain must be released – and as Joe Biden has said, it’s time for the rest of the world to treat Saudi Arabia as the pariah it is until it ends these sickening abuses.” (Source: Independent UK)