Loujain al-Hathloul, one of Saudi Arabia’s leading women’s rights activists, has been sentenced to five years and eight months in prison by the kingdom’s special court for terrorism offenses, according to her family.
The sentence includes a two-year and 10-month suspension, in addition to the time she has already served, paving the way for Ms. Hathloul to be released within two months, according to a statement released by her family on Monday.
Ms. Hathloul, 31, was arrested in May 2018 in a raid that targeted prominent opponents of the kingdom’s old law prohibiting women from driving.
The crackdown occurred just weeks before the ban was lifted, calling into question a series of reforms put forward by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS.
Ms. Hathloul’s trial was scheduled to begin in criminal court last month, where she faced charges including activism against the kingdom’s restrictive male guardianship laws and contact with foreign journalists and diplomats – a job application at the UN was used as evidence against him.
Instead, his case was transferred to the Specialized Criminal Court for terrorism and national security (SCC).
She was accused of using her relationships with foreign governments and human rights groups to “pressure the Kingdom to change its laws and systems,” according to a charge sheet released by her family in early December.
Amnesty International described the SCC in November as an “institution used to silence dissent and known for handing down lengthy prison terms after seriously flawed trials.”
In a statement Monday, her sister Lina said that Ms. Hathloul had been charged, tried and convicted using counter-terrorism laws in a hasty trial that “did not provide evidence beyond Loujain’s well-known activism and did not adequately investigate the torture that Loujain endured in prison.
Ms. Hathloul has told her family that she was sexually assaulted and tortured while in detention, including the submarine, flogging and electrocution, according to multiple statements released by her family and supporters.
The Saudi government has previously denied allegations of torture, saying it does not “condone, promote or allow the use of torture.”
The SCC judge also denied the torture allegations in his final report, according to the Hathloul family’s statement.
CNN has contacted the Saudi government for comment on the case.
Ms. Hathloul has gone on a hunger strike twice, protesting the conditions in her prison and because she was denied communication with her family, according to her family.
A 2019 American Bar Association Center for Human Rights report said the SCC was created in 2008 to prosecute detainees for terrorism, but its “case load rapidly expanded from suspected violent extremists to include political dissidents, religious minorities and human rights activists “and concluded that the” SCC routinely convicts people on terrorism charges without any significant evidence. “
Activist Hathloul will remain on probation for three years after her release, during which time she could be arrested for any perceived illegal activity, according to the family’s statement.
He will also be banned from traveling for five years, he said.
Ms. Hathloul has 30 days to appeal the court’s verdict.
‘Activism is not a crime’
Three other women’s rights activists who were arrested along with Ms. Hathloul – Nassima al-Sada, Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani – remain in detention, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.
The case of another prominent activist, Samar Badawi, has now been referred to the special court.
Ms. Badawi campaigned against a driving ban and against the imprisonment of her ex-husband, human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, as well as her brother, blogger Raif Badawi.
Last month, seven European human rights ambassadors criticized Saudi Arabia for the continued detention of these activists and called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteurs and Treaty Bodies to “reiterate our call to the release of all political detainees, including women rights activists. “
“Peaceful activism and the defense of women’s rights is not a crime. Human rights defenders can be a strong partner for governments in addressing societal concerns,” said the ambassadors.
On Monday, Ms Hathloul’s sister Lina underscored that message, saying that her sister “is not a terrorist, she is an activist.”
“To be sentenced for her activism for the reforms that MBS and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia so proudly proclaim is the utmost hypocrisy. My sister is the bravest person I know and, although we are devastated, she will have to spend another day in prison, our fight is far from over, “he said in a statement.
“We will not rest until Loujain is free.”