A Saudi counterterrorism court has sentenced prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison, local media reported, despite international criticism of her detention and pressure to release her.
Saudi state-linked media Sabq reported on Monday that al-Hathloul had been found guilty by the court of charges, including agitation for change, prosecution of a foreign program and use of ‘Internet to undermine public order.
The court suspended two years and 10 months of his sentence.
She has 30 days to appeal the verdict.
Al-Hathloul, 31, has been in detention since 2018 after being arrested along with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists.
– Lina Alhathloul (@LinaAlhathloul) December 28, 2020
Al-Hathloul’s case and his two-and-a-half-year imprisonment have drawn criticism from rights groups, members of the US Congress and European Union lawmakers.
According to rights group ALQST, court documents from al-Hahtloul’s trial are rages with “serious judicial loopholes,” including prosecution evidence where she allegedly confessed to actions related to her human rights activism.
“The more information that emerges from Loujain al-Hathloul’s trial, the more evident it becomes just how flawed the whole process is,” said Alaa Al-Siddiq, executive director of the ALQST.
“From the indictment and all the evidence relating simply to his peaceful activism, to the deplorable use of the terrorism court and the anti-terrorism law, the Saudi authorities mock justice, and the international community must denounce it.
Rights organizations have documented the torture and sexual violence suffered by al-Hathloul since his arrest.
According to members of his family, some of the torture sessions took place in the presence of the close assistant to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saud al-Qahtani.
According to media outlet Sabq, the judge said the verdict was delivered in the presence of the prosecutor, the accused, a representative of the government human rights commission and a handful of selected local media representatives. .
Al-Hathloul was also jailed in 2014, after Saudi authorities took her into juvenile detention as she attempted to drive into the kingdom from neighboring United Arab Emirates.
She was released 73 days later following an international campaign.
‘Not a shrinking violet’
Al-Hathloul was among a handful of Saudi women who openly called for the right to drive before it was granted in 2018 and for the removal of male guardianship laws that had long stifled freedom of movement and ability to travel women.
Sima Godfrey, associate professor of French at the University of British Columbia, described al-Hathloul – who attended university between 2009 and 2014 and graduated in French – as a “very tough person.”
“She knew what she was risking there and was not afraid. If anything, she couldn’t wait for the challenge. She is by no means a shrinking violet, ”Godfrey told CBC television in 2018.
Godfrey said Hathloul came from a progressive family who encouraged her to get involved in politics, which most Saudi families avoid in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate political dissent.
“She talked a lot about her mother, who wanted her daughters to be there and their voices to be heard,” Godfrey said.
A Saudi activist, who declined to be named out of fear for her family’s safety, told AFP that al-Hathloul represented the kingdom’s modern feminists.
“Loujain is the rebellious young woman of al-Qassim who embodies global values… and denounces the (lies) of the state,” she said.
Al-Hathloul has been married for years to Saudi comedian Fahad al-Butairi, a YouTube sensation known as “Saudi Arabia’s Seinfeld.”
Butairi was arrested in Jordan in 2018 and deported to the kingdom, several activists and friends of the couple told AFP.
They said he was pressured by Saudi authorities to divorce al-Hathloul after his arrest. Butairi, who has been released from detention and resides in the kingdom, was not available for comment.
Western countries, including the European Union, United States and Britain, have sought to pressure the kingdom to release jailed activists.
Some of them have since been provisionally released and are still on trial.
In 2019, Saudi authorities offered to release al-Hathloul in exchange for her video testimony denying that she had been tortured and sexually harassed in prison, her family said.
She refused to accept “the deal,” they said.
Al-Hathloul went on a hunger strike in prison on October 26 to demand regular contact with her family, but felt compelled to end it two weeks later, her siblings said.
“She was woken up by the guards every two hours, day and night, as a brutal tactic to break her,” Amnesty International said last month, citing the activist’s family.
“Yet she is far from broken.