Family of imprisoned Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul worries after contact cut off

Women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been imprisoned since May 2018, hasn't been heard from in a month.

al-monitor Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated portrait by a Dutch photographer.  Photo by Marieke Wijntjes/via REUTERS.

Jun 8, 2020

It's been a month since the family of Loujain al-Hathloul has heard from the imprisoned women’s rights activist, raising further concerns about her safety in Saudi Arabia's notorious maximum security prison. 

Hathloul’s family, which has been unable to visit the prison since March, is supposed to speak with her by phone once a week. On Sunday, Hathloul’s sister Lina al-Hathloul said they hadn’t heard from her in over 30 days. 

“My sister @LoujainHathloul has not called for a month now. Where is Loujain?” Lina asked on Twitter.

Hathloul has spent more than two years inside the al-Ha’ir prison complex near Riyadh. Her arrest in May 2018 came as part of a sweeping crackdown on female activists campaigning for women’s driving rights and the end of restrictive male guardianship laws.

A month after Hathloul's arrest, Saudi Arabia lifted the world’s only ban on women driving.

Since then, her family says Hathloul has been tortured with waterboarding, electric shocks and sexual harassment and at times held in solitary confinement. In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, her sister Alia Hathloul wrote that during a family visit, Loujain “was shaking uncontrollably, unable to hold her grip, to walk or sit normally.”

Her court date was scheduled for March but has been postponed indefinitely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is totally unacceptable for the Saudi government to use the pandemic as an excuse to further violate Loujain’s human rights, and we call on the state to immediately and unconditionally release her," Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now's MENA consultant, told Al-Monitor in emailed comments.

The continued detention of Hathloul comes as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) aims to polish his country’s image abroad while at the same time silencing his critics.

The CIA concluded he personally ordered the October 2018 operation to kill Washington Post columnist and MBS critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The young prince has reportedly orchestrated the arrest of a number of members of the royal family, including Princess Basmah bint Saud. In March, two senior Saudi princes were detained for allegedly planning a coup.

The crown prince’s crackdown on critics comes as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the country and amid reports that Saudi authorities are denying medical treatment to prisoners. According to Amnesty International, detained human rights activist Abdullah al-Hamid died in April after being denied treatment for a heart condition.

Equality Now called on Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Hathloul along with other jailed activists including Nassima al-Sada, Samar Badawi, Maya Al-Zahrani and Nouf Abdelaziz.

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