Saudi Arabia seeking 20-year sentence for jailed women’s activist

Loujain al-Hathloul's sister said the state prosecutor is seeking the maximum sentence in a trial rights groups say is grossly unfair.

al-monitor An undated image of Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. Photo by TWITTER/UNSPexperts.

Dec 17, 2020

Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent women’s rights activist on trial in Saudi Arabia, faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years if convicted, her sister said. 

“My sister must be released. … All she has done is ask for women to be treated with the dignity and freedom that should be their right. For that, the Saudi authorities are seeking the maximum sentence available under the law — 20 years in prison,” Hathloul’s sister Lina told The Guardian newspaper Wednesday. 

Hathloul, 31, is the most well known of a group of female activists arrested in May 2018 as part of the Saudi government’s sweeping crackdown on women’s right-to-drive campaigners. Hathloul has remained in prison for the past two years, where her family says she has been tortured with waterboarding, electric shocks and sexual harassment. In late October, Hathloul launched a two-week hunger strike to protest her detention, which her family says has included stints in solitary confinement. 

The conservative Gulf kingdom denies the reports of torture, and insists that Hathloul and the others were detained over national security concerns, not their activism. The charges against Hathloul, which United Nations experts have called “spurious,” are based on allegations that she communicated with journalists, activists and human rights organizations who are “hostile to the king.”

We call once again on Saudi Arabia to immediately release Ms. Al-Hathloul, a woman human rights defender who has greatly contributed to advancing women’s rights in a country where gender discrimination and stereotyping are deeply entrenched in the fabric of society,” Elizabeth Broderick, chair of the UN working group on discrimination against women and girls, said in a statement. 

Hathloul’s parents, who attended her first court appearance late last month, said Hathloul appeared before the judge shaking and so weak she could barely hold her papers. Her case has been transferred to the kingdom's Specialized Criminal Court, which handles terrorism and national security-related crimes. 

“The authorities are ramming through her abusive trial,” said Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Saudi authorities are trying to publicly stigmatize Loujain al-Hathloul as a ‘spy’ or worse, but no amount of spin can hide the ugly truth behind their mockery of a legal process,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has also come under scrutiny for its jailing of a Saudi American doctor earlier this month. A Saudi court sentenced Walid al-Fitaihi to six years prison over his tweets in support of the 2011 Arab Spring protests and for obtaining US citizenship while a student at George Washington University and Harvard University.

Other US citizens in Saudi custody include journalist Salah al-Haidar and Bader al-Ibrahim, a doctor and writer.

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