Saudi Arabia sentences human right activist to over five years in prison

Loujain al-Hathloul, a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to over five years of prison earlier this week, allegedly on terrorism-related charges. Known for being a significant campaigner during the women’s right to drive movement in the kingdom, al-Hathloul has been under arrest since 2018, with the verdict only surfacing now. Backdating her jail term, the 31-year-old will have to serve another three months in jail. Her detention has been a major cause of public outcry, with many fellow activists and human rights organisations raising concerns over human rights violations. 

She had been arrested in May 2018 along with four other human rights activists. She claims she was not allowed to speak to anyone for seven weeks after her arrest.

The Saudi kingdom has repeatedly denied that she was arrested for campaigning for women’s right to drive, a right that was granted in 2018, but instead for mounting a campaign to undermine the royal family. The case underlines how little political dissent is allowed within the kingdom.

The original charge sheet included meeting British and other European diplomats, as well as applying for a job at the United Nations, and using her arrest in her CV. She was also accused of speaking to foreign press agencies and international human rights groups.

Other charges included joining a group on the messaging app Telegram, where she discussed human rights and a new constitution, liaising with the human rights defender Khaled al-Omair and receiving daily expenses of €50 from foreign organisations when attending international conferences to speak about women in Saudi Arabia.

Other alleged offences involve tweets about her drive from UAE into Saudi Arabia and documents found on her laptop including a pdf file of the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. She was also accused of communicating with European embassies about her case at the time the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was due to visit those countries.

Hathloul’s sister, Lina, wrote in a tweet that although the ruling meant her sister could be released in March 2021, she was also subject to a five-year travel ban. She said that both her sister and the prosecutor could appeal.

The suspension of Hathloul’s jail term is also dependent on her not repeating any of the offences over the next three years, a condition that would put a block on her freedom of speech, presuming she is required to stay in Saudi Arabia.

Source- The Guardian