Saudi Arabia jails renowned women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul for nearly 6 years

Last Updated: Monday, 28 December 2020 (17:16 IST)
A court in sentenced women’s rights activist to five years and eight months in prison on Monday, local media reported. The jail term comes despite pressure from international organizations and human rights groups to release her.

Al-Hathloul was convicted of “various activities prohibited by the anti-terrorism law,” Saudi media cited the court as saying.
 
Two years and 10 months of her sentence were suspended.
 
Who is Loujain al-Hathloul?
 
Loujain Al-Hathloul, 31, was arrested in May 2018 along with around a dozen other women activists, weeks before Saudi Arabia lifted its decades long ban on female drivers. Most of them had been campaigning for the right to drive. They are accused of terrorism-related charges.
 
UN experts have called the charges against her “spurious.”
 
Elizabeth Broderick, the chair of the UN working group on discrimination against women and girls, has called for al-Hathloul’s immediate release, saying that she was on trial “for exercising her fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”
 
Al-Hathloul’s case was transferred to the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), or anti-terrorism court, last month.
 
Her parents, Abdullah and Fatima, who act as al-Hathloul’s legal representatives, have themselves been banned from traveling abroad since March 2018. As international observers, press and diplomats were not permitted at the court hearings, social media has become the main platform for drawing attention to her plight.
 
“It is a nerve-wracking trial,” her younger sister Lina Al-Hathloul told DW.
 
Critics slam ‘unfair’ trial
 
Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that Saudi authorities were rushing through her trial. The rights group has previously criticized the SCC for silencing government critics by holding unfair trials and meting out long jail terms.
 
“Saudi Arabia is infamous for its cases against human rights activists and prominent dissidents whose cases were fundamentally unfair and full of abnormalities,” Adam Coogle, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, told DW. He said he was doubtful that an appeal would prove successful, as “it presupposes a legitimate justice system in which decisions are made objectively and independently, and that’s the furthest thing from the case here.”
 
Omid Nouripour, a German parliamentarian with the Green Party who met with al-Hathloul several times before her arrest, echoed criticism that the trial was unfair. The case “exemplifies [the Saudi government’s] take on critically-thinking people,” he told DW ahead of Monday’s verdict.