Loujain Al-Hathloul is a women’s rights activist, political prisoner and social media figure born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia who was repeatedly arrested for defying gender inequalities in Saudi Arabia. In 2018, she was once again arrested along with a group of men and women involved in campaigning for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. As a result, she was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison. In August 2019, the Saudi authorities offered her to be released under the condition of being forced to deny in a video the torture and rape she is enduring during her detention, Al-Hathloul refused and remained in prison ever since. After more than 900 days in detention, as the Court suspended two years and ten months of Al-Hathloul’s term, she could be released sooner in March 2021.
Even though Al-Hathloul’s commutation of sentence could be a considerable relief for her family as well as the international community which repeatedly called for her release, Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “This sentencing, while partially suspended, shows the cruelty of the Saudi authorities.” Indeed, her detention is the dramatic result of a deeply flawed trial and Morayef further implies that “Loujain al-Hathloul is a brave human right’s defender whose peaceful activism together with other brave Saudi activists has driven momentous social change in Saudi Arabia. This sentencing, while partially suspended, still shows the cruelty of the Saudi authorities towards one of the bravest women who dared to be vocal about her dreams of a better Saudi Arabia.”
Al-Hathloul is particularly known for defying the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia and was arrested in May 2018 after attempting to drive across the border between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. However, in June 2018, although women were granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, while Al-Hathloul remained in prison. This shows the abnormal treatment of Saudi authorities against Al-Hathloul and possibly women generally who have to comply to multiple unfair laws constantly weakening their freedom in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, at her trial, charges were not specified and reporters and diplomats were barred from attending.
For three months, Al-Hathloul had been held in incommunicado detention and had to undertake hunger strikes in order to be granted the possibility to meet her family. On 8 October 2020, the European Parliament called for Saudi authorities to free all the human rights activists, in particular the campaigners for the Women To Drive Movement as well as Al-Hathloul, in a resolution passed against the Kingdom’s human right’s records. To shed light on the situation of these dissidents and migrants in the detention centers of the country, the MEPs urged the European Union prevent the Saudi’s from hosting the G20 Summit.
On the 28 December 2020, Al-Hathloul was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison, after her case was transferred to Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court in November. She was falsely charged for “spying with foreign parties” and “conspiring against the kingdom.”
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