The family of prominent human rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul will appeal his prison sentence, but expressed little hope in the Saudi justice system, calling the trial a “sham” and “politically motivated”.
Monday, a Saudi court condemned al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison on terrorism-related charges and barred him from leaving the country for five years, sparking a torrent of international criticism.
Al-Hathloul, 31, was arrested in May 2018 along with a dozen other women’s rights activists just weeks before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on chauffeurs, a reform they had long had long overdue. campaign.
“The moment [al-Hathloul] seeing the verdict, she started to cry because… she had been qualified as a terrorist, ”her brother Walid al-Hathloul told AFP news agency.
“We will appeal the verdict even if [we] have no hope from the Saudi justice system.
Loujain cried upon hearing the phrase today. After almost 3 years of arbitrary detention, torture, solitary confinement – they now condemn her and label her as a terrorist. Loujain to appeal conviction and call for further investigation into torture #FreeLoujain https://t.co/E4msesGqjH
– Lina Alhathloul (@LinaAlhathloul) December 28, 2020
The Geneva-based United Nations human rights office called Al-Hathloul’s conviction and sentence “deeply disturbing” after she was “arbitrarily” detained.
“We understand that early release is possible, and we strongly encourage it as a matter of urgency,” the organization said on Twitter.
#Saudi Arabia: Conviction and sentence of 5 years and 8 months pronounced against a prominent women’s rights activist #LoujainAlHathloul, already arbitrarily detained for two and a half years, is also deeply disturbing. We understand that early release is possible and we strongly encourage it as an emergency.
– United Nations Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) December 28, 2020
The French foreign ministry said it had reiterated its call for her “speedy release”, a view echoed by German human rights commissioner Barbel Kofler.
“Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of Loujain al-Hathloul for simply exercising his universal rights is unfair and disturbing,” tweeted Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser in the new administration of US President-elect Joe Biden.
Donald Trump’s current US administration was more moderate, with State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown tweeting that the US was “worried,” adding that “we look forward to his scheduled early release in 2021 “.
After being tried in the Riyadh Criminal Court, al-Hathloul’s trial was transferred last month to the Specialized Criminal Court, or “anti-terrorism tribunal,” which activists say is used to silence critical voices under covered with the fight against “terrorism”.
She was found guilty of cooperation with entities criminalized by the kingdom’s anti-terrorism law, of inciting regime change and of attempting to disrupt public order.
The court suspended two years and 10 months of the sentence “if she has committed no crime” within the next three years, pro-government online outlet Sabq and other media authorized to attend her said on Monday. trial.
An appeal can also be filed within a month by the prosecutor, who Hathloul’s family say has requested a 20-year prison sentence for her.
Another detained activist, Maya al-Zahrani, received an identical sentence on a similar list of charges, local media reported.
Sexual harassment and torture
Earlier this month, the kingdom’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told AFP that Hathloul was accused of contacting “hostile” states and providing classified information, but his family said no evidence to support the claims had been put forward.
While some detained activists have been provisionally released, al-Hathloul and others have remained in jail on what rights groups describe as opaque charges.
The pro-government Saudi media have called them “traitors” and al-Hathloul’s family claim she has been sexually harassed and tortured in detention.
The Saudi court recently rejected these allegations.
The detention of women activists has shed light on the human rights record of the kingdom, an absolute monarchy that has also come under heavy criticism for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul.