Politics World

Saudi Women’s Rights Activists Sentenced To Nearly 6 Years In Prison

Saudi Women's Rights Activists
Loujain Alhathloul via OTRS system, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Saudi court has sentenced prominent women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison, local media reports say, in a trial that has drawn international condemnation and comes as Riyadh faces new US scrutiny. 

Hathloul was sentenced, according to state-linked media, under a vague and broadly worded counter terrorism law. She has been senteced to 5 years and 8 months in prison  for participating in terrorism-related activities and crimes after she was arrested in May 2018. 

Loujain Al-Hathloul, 31, rose to prominence for openly fighting for women to be given the right to drive and for an end to Saudi Arabia’s restrictive male guardianship system, which had long limited freedom of movement. She, along with several other female activists was arrested in May 2018, just weeks before the kingdom finally ended a decades long ban on women driving.

Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch  said that some of the women detained, including Al-Hathloul, reported having faced abuses while imprisoned, including electric shocks, whippings and sexual assault. Saudi Arabia has denied the allegations.

Hathloul's jail time was ordered by a Saudi court on Monday in presence of a few selected local media outlets. The activist can have her sentence reduced by two years and ten months "if she does not commit any crime" within the next three years. However, it is not yet clear if the ruling was decided for the time she will be serving or when she may be released from custody.

United Nations human rights experts have called the charges against her spurious, and along with leading rights groups and lawmakers in the United States and Europe have called for her release

Foreign diplomats said the two trials aimed to send a message at home and abroad that Saudi Arabia would not yield to pressure on human-rights issues.

Biden has said he will take a firmer line with the kingdom, an oil titan and a major buyer of American arms, than President Donald Trump, who was a strong supporter of Prince Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Saudi.