She is one of the most famous women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia and, among other things, has campaigned for the right to drive – with success. Now the 31-year-old has been sentenced to almost six years in prison.
By Carsten Kühntopp, ARD-Studio Cairo
Five years and eight months imprisonment for Loujain al-Hathloul: According to the Saudi media, the court found that the 31-year-old civil rights activist had worked to change the country’s political system and damage national security, among other things.
The court withdrew 34 months probation from the original sentence for al-Hathloul – taking into account the “condition of the accused,” as it was called. Al-Hathloul can therefore expect to be released in February or March.
Allegation of torture
She went on a hunger strike in October. In protest of the poor circumstances under which she and other activists are being held. But she had to end it after two weeks because of the great pressure from her guards.
Her family and human rights organizations accuse the Saudi authorities of torturing al-Hathloul while in custody.
Human rights activist: verdict is “mockery of justice”
Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch called the verdict “a mockery of justice”. Coogle doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the verdict was pronounced between Christmas and the turn of the year – a classic holiday season in the West.
“They’re clearly trying to minimize coverage, presumably because they know the verdict is embarrassing. And they should be. It’s no surprise that Saudi Arabia has tried Hathloul on these flimsy charges, all of them with theirs Commitment to human rights, “says Coogle.
Kidnapped, abducted and arrested
In the spring of two years ago, Loujain al-Hathloul was kidnapped in the United Arab Emirates and taken to her home country of Saudi Arabia. She was arrested there in May 2018. A few weeks later, the royal family also allowed women to get a driver’s license. That was exactly what al-Hathloul had been committed to. It also ensures that women no longer have to have a male guardian.
In 2014, al-Hathloul was jailed for the first time for her activism, for 73 days. She later said this term helped shape her advocacy for women’s rights. “The government has promised freedom of expression – that we can express ourselves freely without going to jail. But in reality there is no freedom of expression. We are still jailed for making perfectly normal and reasonable expressions.”
A clear sign of Saudi Arabia
Not only human rights activists and celebrities, but also the Foreign Affairs Committee of the powerful US Senate had called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Loujain al-Hathloul in recent years. But the verdict against the activist should be a sign both internally and externally: When it comes to human rights, the Saudi leadership does not give in.
The designated US President Joe Biden has already announced a sharper approach to Riyadh. Because of the poor human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, the country is a pariah, said Biden.