Saudi Arabia’s Women Rights Defender sentenced to prison

An anti-terrorist court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced activist Loujain al Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison on Monday for “trying to change the kingdom’s political system and promoting a foreign agenda using the internet.”

Although the sentence is below the 20 years requested by the prosecutor, it is a harsh punishment for a young woman whose only crime is to have defended the right of women to drive (before Saudi Arabia lifted the ban in 2018) and the end of the male guardianship system. Last week, an ordinary court dismissed his torture complaint “for lack of evidence.”

“After almost three years in preventive detention and five weeks of an accelerated process in the Special Criminal Court, my sister has been sentenced today to 5 years and 8 months in prison, using anti-terrorist laws,”

Alia al Hathloul confirmed, shortly after the Saudi media to spread the news. Alia, who along with her brothers Lina and Walid has acted as spokesperson for the case, has acknowledged that the family is “sunk” by the fact that Loujain has to spend one more night in prison. “We are not going to rest until he is free,” he said in a statement.

Loujain, 31, has burst into tears upon hearing the sentence, which, according to Lina, she is going to appeal. The young woman was arrested along with a dozen other activists in May 2018, a few days before the driving ban she had campaigned for was lifted.

Since then, his imprisonment and trial have been the subject of much criticism . Both international rights organizations and prominent Western politicians had asked Saudi Arabia to release them.

“It must be released immediately. Defending human rights is not terrorism, ”tweeted UN rapporteur for human rights defenders Mary Lawlor. Rights organizations Human Rights Watch and ALQST have also criticized the verdict, which they interpret as a message to the activists.

The sentence includes the suspension of half of the 68 months in prison to which she has been sentenced “in consideration of her conditions”, which seems to be a reference to her delicate state of health after the hunger strike that carried out the last November to demand that he be allowed to communicate with his family.

Discounting the time that he has spent in preventive detention, that means that Loujain could be released by next March.

However, this suspension “will be considered void in the event that the accused commits any crime in the next three years,” according to the website of the newspaper Okaz.

It is a formula that authoritarian regimes use to “keep activists quiet and inactive,” as Sussan Tahmasebi, Femena’s co-founder and director, recently explained to EL PAÍS. The sentence, which can be appealed within the next 30 days, also prohibits him from leaving the country for five years.

“Loujain and my parents (who are his lawyers) had little time to prepare for the trial, so it is difficult to understand that it is a fair process.

My sister is not a terrorist, but an activist. Condemning her for promoting the same reforms that MBS and the Saudi kingdom boast so much about is the ultimate hypocrisy, ”says Alia, using the initials for the heir and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohamed Bin Salmán .

A campaign in the local press accused Loujain and the rest of the activists as “traitors” after their arrest. MBS himself, who presents himself as a modernizer, suggested that they were spies in an interview with the Bloomberg agency a few months later. Last year, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel al Jubeir, accused them of having “received funds from hostile foreign governments.”

In fact, Loujain’s case was transferred from ordinary justice to the Riyadh Specialized Criminal Court (which deals with terrorism cases) on November 25, when it was resumed after several months of hiatus due to the pandemic. As a result of that decision, Loujain’s family released the indictment.

The main ones, for which the prosecution requested a total of 20 years in prison, included trying to change the Saudi political system, advocating for the end of the male guardianship system, applying for a job at the UN and contacting rights organizations, embassies and journalists. foreign.

The prosecutor also accused the activist of having received “financial support from an outside organization to visit rights organizations and conferences with the aim of speaking about the status of Saudi women.”

This support consisted, as the interested party admitted, in the plane ticket and a stipend of 50 euros a day to attend a cybersecurity course in Spain, facilitated by the International Federation for Human Rights based in France.

Last week, an ordinary court dismissed the activist’s complaint for torture and ill-treatment . The judge concluded that his statements were not sufficient and he had not been able to identify those responsible for finding himself with his eyes covered.

At his request for the security recordings, the answer was that they were not available because “they are automatically deleted after 40 days”. According to rights organizations and her family, Loujain and two other women suffered beatings, electric shocks and false drowning (waterboarding) between May and August 2018.

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