- Loujain al- Hathloul, 31, has been sentenced to almost 6 years by a Saudi court
- Hathloul is a Saudi activist who campaigned for Women’s right to drive
- Her conviction in the train draws international condemnation
On Monday, a Saudi court sentenced a prominent Women’s Rights Activist named Loujain al- Hathloul to almost 6 years in prison, said her family.
After her conviction in the trial, many nations came forward to condemn the outcome.
The verdict and sentence to the activist pose a big challenge to the relationship of the Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman with the President-elect of the United States of America, Joe Biden, who has criticised Riyadh’s human rights record.
The 31 year old women’s right activist, who has been held since 2018 following her arrest along with several other women’s right activists, will be appealing the sentence, her sister said.
As per reports from the Saudi newspapers Sabq and al-Shark al-Awsat, the 31 year old women’s activist was “was charged with seeking to change the Saudi political system and harming national security”, and “under broad counter-terrorism laws”.
The court, however, suspended 2 year and 10 months of her sentence of the 5 year and 8 months with most of it already served since her arrest on the 15th of May 2018, with the condition to release to follow, the activist’s sister Lina said.
Hence, she could be released as early as by March 2021, however, she could be returned to the prison if she commits any crime, the newspapers said.
The 31 year activist Hathloul was also banned from travelling for five years, said her sister Lina and added that Hathloul cried when she was sentenced and will appeal.
In a statement Lina said, “My sister is not a terrorist, she is an activist. To be sentenced for her activism for the very reforms that MBS and the Saudi kingdom so proudly tout is the ultimate hypocrisy”.
The spokesperson from the U.S. State Department, Cale Brown, said that the United States of America was “concerned by reports” of Hathloul’s sentence.
He said, “We’ve emphasized the importance of free expression and peaceful activism in Saudi Arabia as it advances women’s rights. We look forward to her anticipated early release in 2021,” on Twitter.
We are concerned by reports that a Saudi court has sentenced activist Loujain al-Hathloul to prison. We’ve emphasized the importance of free expression and peaceful activism in Saudi Arabia as it advances women’s rights. We look forward to her anticipated early release in 2021.— Cale Brown (@StateDeputySPOX) December 29, 2020
Joe Biden’s incoming National Security adviser, Jake Sullivan appeared to reaffirm on Twitter that the Biden administration plans to elevate human rights issues in relations with Riyadh.
Sullivan, in a tweet, said, Hathloul’s sentencing “for simply exercising her universal rights is unjust and troubling,” and added, “As we have said, the Biden-Harris administration will stand up against human rights violations wherever they occur.”
Saudi Arabia’s sentencing of Loujain al-Hathloul for simply exercising her universal rights is unjust and troubling. As we have said, the Biden-Harris administration will stand up against human rights violations wherever they occur.— Jake Sullivan (@jakejsullivan) December 28, 2020
The United Nations human rights experts are calling the charges “spurious.”
The U.N. human rights office said that the conviction of the 31 year old Saudi women’s activist was “deeply troubling” and called for her urgent release.
Rights groups and her family say Hathloul, who campaigned for women’s right to drive and to end the kingdom’s male guardianship system, was subjected to abuse, including electric shocks, waterboarding, flogging and sexual assault. Saudi authorities have denied the charges.
In 2019, Hathloul refused to rescind her allegations of torture in exchange for early release, her family has said. A court last week dismissed the allegations, citing a lack of evidence.
Sabq and al-Shark al-Awsat reported the judge said had Hathloul confessed to the crimes without coercion.
Hathloul’s sentencing came almost 3 weeks after a Riyadh court jailed U.S. – Saudi physician named Walid al-Fitaihi for six years, even though the U.S. put pressure to release him, in a case activists have called politically motivated.
Foreign diplomats have said that the state’s trials aim to send a message both at home and overseas that Saudi Arabia would not get pressurised on human rights issues.
One diplomat said that in future negotiations, Riyadh could also use the sentences as leverage with the Biden administration.
Joe Biden had said that he is willing to take a firmer line with the kingdom, an oil titan and a major buyer of American arms, than what President Donald Trump did, who was a strong supporter of Prince Mohammed and provided a buffer against the international criticism after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.