Leading Saudi Women's Rights Activist Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison

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Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture.
Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture. Credit: HANDOUT/ REUTERS

One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists was sentenced on Monday to nearly six years in prison under a vague and broadly-worded law aimed at combating terrorism, according to state-linked media.

Loujain al-Hathloul’s case, and her imprisonment for the past two and a half years, have drawn international criticism from rights groups, members of the U.S. Congress and European Union lawmakers.

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State-linked Saudi news outlet Sabq reported that al-Hathloul was found guilty by the kingdom’s anti-terrorism court on charges including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda and using the internet to harm public order. She has 30 days to appeal the verdict.

Al-Hathloul was among a handful of Saudi women who openly called for the right to drive before it was granted in 2018 and for the removal of male guardianship laws that had long stifled women's freedom of movement and ability to travel abroad.

Officials have said the arrests of women activists were made on suspicion of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad. Few charges have been made public, but those against Hathloul include communicating with foreign journalists, attempting to apply for a job at the United Nations and attending digital privacy training, her family has said.

She and four other women making a rare court appearance last month. Al-Hathloul, looked weak, her body shaking uncontrollably and her voice faint, her sister Lina told Reuters, adding that her parents had sat next to her in court. It was her first appearance since March last year.

Rights groups say at least three of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault. Saudi officials have denied torture allegations.

Hathloul went on hunger strike in October to protest against the conditions of her detention. Her family said she was forced to abandon the hunger strike after two weeks because her jailers were waking her every two hours.

"How credible is it that after more than a year of being judged in the criminal court, the judge now says he has a lack of jurisdiction and transferred her to the terrorism court?" sister Lina al-Hathloul told Reuters.

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