Jailed Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul expected to be released

Prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been in jail since 2018, expected to be freed on Thursday, her sister says.

Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is expected to be released from prison on Thursday after more than 1,000 days in detention, according to her sister Alia al-Hathloul.

In a tweet on Monday, Alia said her sister was expected to be freed on Thursday, February 11, as per a judge’s order.

In December 2020, a Saudi court sentenced al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison on terrorism-related charges and banned her from leaving the country for five years. Local media reported she had been found guilty by the court on charges including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda and using the internet to harm public order.

The court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, and she was set to be released in March.

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Her early release would come weeks into US President Joe Biden’s administration, which has vowed it would take a firmer stance on the kingdom’s human rights record.

Biden said he would halt US support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, saying that the more than six-year war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, “has to end”.

Last week, Saudi authorities released two activists with US citizenship on bail pending their trials.

Bader al-Ibrahim, an epidemiologist and journalist, and Salah al-Haidar, a media commentator whose mother Aziza al-Yousef is a prominent women’s rights campaigner, were released on Thursday.

Rights abuses

Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, has been in custody since 2018 after being arrested along with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists in a crackdown on dissent led by de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS).

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Her arrest came just weeks before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on female drivers, a reform they had long campaigned for.

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

Pro-government Saudi media branded them as “traitors” and al-Hathloul’s family says she experienced sexual harassment and torture in detention.

Rights organisations have also documented the torture and sexual violence al-Hathloul has been subjected to since her arrest.

According to her family members, some of the torture sessions have been in the presence of MBS’s close aide Saud al-Qahtani.

The Saudi court recently dismissed those allegations.

According to London-based NGO ALQST, Monday marked 1,000 days since Loujain’s imprisonment.

The detention of women activists has cast a renewed spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom, an absolute monarchy which has also faced intense criticism over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate.

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