Loujain al-Hathloul, Saudi Gender Activist, Faces Jail Term Amid Human Rights Concerns

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Loujain al-Hathloul, gender activist prominent for her role in campaigning for women’s right to drive in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was on Monday sentenced to a jail term of five years and eight months. Reports suggest the 31-year-old Nobel Prize nominee has been found guilty of “terror” related activities and of conspiring with foreign powers. However, al-Hathloul, who has been in jail since May 2018 when she was arrested alongside ten other women’s activists, will have to serve only three months hence, since her sentence has been backdated.

According to The Guardian, news of al-Hathloul’s arrest verdict was first reported by newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, which mentioned: “Saudi court sentenced a female detainee with incitement to change the Kingdom’s ruling regime and co-operating with individuals and entities to carry out a foreign agenda.” Reports suggest the activist has only 30 days to launch an appeal against her verdict.

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Reactions And Reasons For al-Hathloul’s Arrest

Her kidnap and subsequent arrest in 2018, along with other campaigners, came only a few weeks shy of Saudi’s decision to lift the ban on female drivers, a cause al-Hathloul had been incredibly involved in. United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and several international human rights experts had decried al-Hathloul’s arrest as “spurious” and “outrageous,” bringing King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud under the radar of wide backlash.

Elizabeth Broderick, UN’s chair of a group against women’s discrimination, was quoted saying that al-Hathloul was arrested “for exercising her fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association” and that she should be immediately released.

While she has been allegedly arrested for terrorism-related activities, many critics are claiming al-Hathloul is facing the consequences of campaigning for women’s right to drive in a kingdom known for clamping down on the liberation of women. A humans rights spokesperson was quoted saying in The Independent, “Loujain is a peaceful campaigner for the basic freedoms the rest of the world takes for granted. In response she has been imprisoned, tortured and abused by the Saudi authorities – yet they call her the terrorist.”

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al-Hathloul’s Sister Appeals

According to various reports, al-Hathloul also launched a hunger strike recently, in protest of her arrest. Her sister, Lina, has been quoted saying, “From the beginning, it has been a sham trial and a show trial so it won’t magically become a fair trial. From the beginning, it has been normal to give a day’s notice for things.”

She is crying foul over the authorities’ arrest of her sister, saying, “The procedures have not been respected and have not been fair. The authorities previously blocked my parents from giving Loujain her legal documents.”

There were even reports of al-Hathloul being harassed and tortured in detention, but the courts have cleared the authorities on all accounts.

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Who Is Loujain al-Hathloul?

Loujain al-Hathloul is a notable gender rights activist from Saudi Arabia, known best for her work towards getting women the right to drive and for opposing the male guardianship system, both of which were hampering women’s independence in the kingdom. A University of British Columbia graduate, al-Hathloul has been vocal about the atrocities committed by the Saudi government. In 2018, she was kidnapped and later arrested on charges of terrorism. A 2020 verdict sentenced her to almost six years in prison. al-Hathloul has featured on TIME’s 100 most influential list.