Saudi women's rights activist gets nearly 6-year jail term
Prominent women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced to nearly six years in jail by a Saudi court on Monday, her family said. However, Hathloul (31), who had campaigned for women's right to drive, is expected to be released in a few months as the court suspended part of her sentence. She was arrested in May 2018 and charged under broad counter-terrorism laws.
The court suspended two years and 10 months of Hathloul's five years and eight months jail term. Hathloul has served most of her sentence already since her May 15, 2018 arrest. She is reportedly expected to be released by March 2021 on the condition that she does not commit any crime. She has also been banned from travel for five years, her sister said.
Hathloul has been charged with seeking to change the Saudi political system and harming national security, Saudi newspapers Sabq and al-Shark al-Awsat said. The charges, which carried a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, also included calling for an end to male guardianship; attempting to apply for a United Nations job; and speaking to international rights groups, foreign diplomats, and international media.
Her sister 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," adding that Hathloul will appeal the sentence. Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch described the sentence as a "travesty of justice."
Hathloul's family and rights groups say that she has been subjected to abuse, including electric shocks, waterboarding, flogging, and sexual assault. However, Saudi authorities have denied these charges. She had refused to withdraw these allegations of torture in 2019 in exchange for an early release, her family said. Last week, a court dismissed the allegations citing a lack of evidence.
Hathloul's sentence is set to pose a challenge for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's relationship with the United States President-elect Joe Biden, who has criticized the Kingdom's human rights record. According to foreign diplomats, the trials in the Kingdom are aimed at sending a message that Saudi Arabia will not give in to international pressure on human rights issues.
One diplomat told Reuters that Saudi Arabia could use the trials as leverage in future negotiations with the Biden administration. Notably, President Donald Trump has been a strong supporter of Prince Mohammed. Saudi Arabia is an oil titan and a major buyer of American arms.