Thursday, February 25, 2021

Saudi women’s driving rights activist released from prison after 1,001 days

Saudi officials say they aren't bowing to outside pressure but it's clear they want this issue off the agenda now that there's a new team in the White House.

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Prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has been released from prison on probation after serving 1,001 days, her family says.

Hathloul, 31, was a key figure in the movement to allow women to drive in the kingdom. She was detained in 2018, just weeks before the driving ban was finally lifted.

A court found her guilty of “seeking to change the political system and damage public order”. She was sentenced to nearly six years in a maximum security prison, but two years and 10 months were suspended.

Her family have warned that she is “not free” and will face numerous restrictions while on probation, including a five-year travel ban.

Hathloul became a symbol of the suppression of dissent in Saudi Arabia following her detention.

Her family said she was initially held incommunicado for three months, and that she was subjected to electric shocks, whippings, and sexual harassment. They also alleged that that she was offered freedom if she agreed to say she was not tortured.

The Saudi government denied the allegations of torture and insisted that she was not detained because of her activism, but rather her contacts with foreign diplomats, media and other organisations.

The BBC reports that her case has “thrown a long dark shadow on the kingdom’s efforts to publicise its new economic and social reforms”.

Saudi officials say they aren’t bowing to outside pressure. But it’s clear they want this issue off the agenda now that there’s a new team in the White House emphasising human rights.

President Joe Biden’s administration welcomed her release from prison, describing it as “a good thing”.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s deputy Middle East director said, “Loujain al-Hathloul’s release after a harrowing ordeal in prison in Saudi Arabia is long overdue. Nothing can make up for the cruel treatment she has suffered, nor the injustice of her imprisonment.”

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