Saudi women’s rights activist sentenced to nearly 6 years under counter-terrorism laws

Louijain al-Hathloul was sentenced to five years and eight months by the Saudi Court.

A Saudi Court sentenced activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who gained prominence for advocating women’s rights, to nearly six years in prison on terrorism-related charges.

The ruling brings to a close a case that has drawn international criticism including the US. Al-Hathloul was found guilty on charges of pushing for change, pursuing a foreign agenda, using the Internet to disturb public order, and cooperating with individuals and entities that have committed crimes under anti-terror ties.

Al-Hathloul, who pushed for women’s right to drive before the ban was lifted in 2018, was arrested along with other women right’s activists in May 2015. She has been in prison since then.

The court suspended two years and 10 months from her earlier sentence of five years and eight months according to the activist's sister Lina al-Hathloul.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, has accused women’s rights activists of espionage on behalf of regional rivals Qatar and Iran.

Earlier in December, Ms. Hathloul was accused by the Foreign Minister of passing classified information to states. The two officials have denied that Ms. Hathloul’s activism was the reason for her detention.

Her sister said Ms. Hathloul will appeal the sentence and ask for another investigation into her allegations of torture.

Local media reported that another women’s rights activist, Maya's al-Zahrani, was awarded the same sentence.

The 31-year-old Saudi activist has long been vocal about human rights in Saudi Arabia, even from behind bars. She launched hunger strikes to protest her imprisonment and joined other female activists citing the torture and sexual assaults by masked men during interrogations. The women alleged that they were waterboarded, caned, and electrocuted. Some say they were threatened with rape.

Al-Hathloul’s imprisonment is likely to affect the relationship between Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman and US President-elect Joe Biden.

US President Joe Biden vowed to reassess the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and protect the rights of activists around the world as he prepares to take office in January.

Her detention is part of a broader crackdown under Prince Mohammed, who seeks to liberalize the economy and relax Saudi Arabia’s staid social norms.

The longtime activist was first detained in 2014 and held for more than 70 days after she attempted to Livestream herself driving from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia to protest the kingdom’s ban on women driving. Also a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Ms. Hathloul is a recipient of many human rights awards.

The United Nations termed the detention as spurious while the US State Department expressed concerns over the charges.

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