Female Saudi activist has been jailed for six years

Saudi Arabia‘s most high-profile women’s rights activist has been jailed for six years over charges including talking to Amnesty International and applying for a job at the UN.

Loujain al-Hathloul, 31 – a leading campaigner for women to be allowed to drive in the desert kingdom – was convicted by a terrorist court after being accused of spying and conspiring with foreign powers. 

But Al-Hathloul’s supporters claim she was jailed despite only being charged with offences relating to her human rights work.

These have included calling for an end Saudi Arabia’s restrictive male guardianship system and talking to journalists for a documentary.

Saudi Arabia's most high-profile women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, has been jailed for six years over charges including talking to Amnesty International and applying for a job at the UN

Saudi Arabia’s most high-profile women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, has been jailed for six years over charges including talking to Amnesty International and applying for a job at the UN

Two years and 10 months of her six-year sentence was suspended meaning that – in addition to time already served since May 2018 – Al-Hathloul could be free by March 2021. 

Once released she will be subject to a five year travel ban. 

During one recent court appearance the jailed activist – who went on hunger strike last month – ‘looked weak’ and ‘her body was shaking uncontrollably and her voice was faint and shaky’.

On Monday the state news outlet Sabq said that Al-Hathloul was found guilty by the kingdom’s anti-terrorism court on charges including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda and using the internet to harm public order.

Al-Hathloul – who shared a stage with Meghan Markle at the 2016 One Young World Summit in Canada – had previously been jailed in 2014 after filming herself behind the wheel of a car when it was illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Hathloul - who shared a stage with Meghan Markle at the 2016 One Young World Summit in Canada - had previously been jailed in 2014 after filming herself behind the wheel of a car (pictured) when it was illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia

Al-Hathloul – who shared a stage with Meghan Markle at the 2016 One Young World Summit in Canada – had previously been jailed in 2014 after filming herself behind the wheel of a car (pictured) when it was illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia

Her conviction came two and half years after her arrest in May 2018, a move which campaigners claim was timed to prevent her taking credit for the decision by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to lift the driving ban a month later.

Last month it emerged that detained activists, like Al-Hathloul, had been forced to kiss and perform sex acts on their interrogators in jails.

A 40-page report by human rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy said inmates were also made to watch pornography, threatened with rape, hung from the ceiling, beaten and suffered electric shocks during treatment which ‘amounted to torture’.

It said Loujain’s interrogation has been overseen by Saud al-Qahtani, a member of the MBS’s inner circle, who was accused of orchestrating the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

In echoes of the dismemberment of the dissident journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul he was said to have told one of the women: ‘I’ll do whatever I like to you, and then I’ll dissolve you and flush you down the toilet’.

Her conviction came two and half years after her arrest in May 2018, a move which campaigners claim was timed to prevent her taking credit for the decision by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (pictured) to lift the driving ban a month later

Her conviction came two and half years after her arrest in May 2018, a move which campaigners claim was timed to prevent her taking credit for the decision by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (pictured) to lift the driving ban a month later

Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court, known as a ‘terrorist’ court, opened Al-Hathloul’s case on December 10th, accusing her of ‘exploiting’ her 2014 conviction by using her prison experience when applying for a job at the UN.

In an earlier indictment she was also accused of making contact with European diplomats, including ‘Kathryn from the British Embassy’ in order to ask for her case to be raised with bin Salman during his state visit to the UK in March 2018.

Another charge claimed she received ‘material support’ from ‘a foreign organisation to visit human rights organisations and attend conferences and seminars to speak about the status of Saudi women’.

Al-Hathloul (pictured) was convicted by a terrorist court after being accused of spying and conspiring with foreign powers

Al-Hathloul (pictured) was convicted by a terrorist court after being accused of spying and conspiring with foreign powers

This referred to plane tickets and accommodation she was given to attend a course in cybersecurity in Spain after it emerged Saudi Arabia was planting spyware on the phones of dissidents living abroad.

In Saudi Arabia Al-Hathloul has been accused of being a ‘traitor’ and ‘trying to destabilise the kingdom’, with her face appearing on the front page of state-run newspapers.

But Elizabeth Broderick, chair of the UN working group on discrimination against women and girls, said: ‘Defending human rights can never be considered a threat of national security’.

Her family have been preparing for the worst after prosecutors said they would be seeking the maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars.

Her sister, Lina al-Hathloul, said before the verdict: ‘All my sister has done is ask for women to be treated with dignity and freedom that should be their right.’

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