Jailed Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul expected to be released

Prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been in jail since 2018, expected out of prison on Thursday, sister says.

Saudi women''s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture
Loujain, 31, was arrested along with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists in a crackdown on dissent [File: Marieke Wijntjes/Handout via Reuters]

Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is expected to be released from prison on Thursday after more than 1,000 days in detention.

In a series of tweets, her sister Alia al-Hathloul said Loujain was expected to get out of prison as per a judge’s order but will remain on probation and be banned from travel outside of Saudi Arabia.

“It is a potential release from prison and she is still under probation, [a] travel ban and awaiting news of the appeal process,” said Alia on Tuesday.

 

In December 2020, a Saudi court sentenced Loujain al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison on terrorism-related charges and banned her from leaving the country for five years.

Local media reported she had been found guilty by the court on charges including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda and using the internet to harm public order.

The court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, and she was set to be released in March.

Her potential release would come weeks into US President Joe Biden’s administration, which has vowed it would take a firmer stance on the kingdom’s human rights record.

Biden said he would halt US support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, saying the more than six-year war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, “has to end”.

Last week, Saudi authorities released two activists with US citizenship on bail pending their trials.

Bader al-Ibrahim, an epidemiologist and journalist, and Salah al-Haidar, a media commentator whose mother Aziza al-Yousef is a prominent women’s rights campaigner, were released on Thursday.

Rights abuses

Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, has been in custody since 2018 after being arrested along with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists in a crackdown on dissent led by de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS).

Her arrest came just weeks before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on female drivers, a reform they had long campaigned for.

Al-Hathloul’s case, and her imprisonment for the past two-and-a-half years, have drawn criticism from rights groups, members of the US Congress and European Union lawmakers.

Pro-government Saudi media branded them as “traitors” and al-Hathloul’s family says she experienced sexual harassment and torture in detention.

Rights organisations have also documented the torture and sexual violence al-Hathloul has been subjected to since her arrest.

According to her family members, some of the torture sessions have been in the presence of MBS’s close aide Saud al-Qahtani.

The Saudi court recently dismissed those allegations.

According to London-based NGO ALQST, Monday marked 1,000 days since Loujain’s imprisonment.

The detention of women activists has cast a renewed spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom, an absolute monarchy which has also faced intense criticism over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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