Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul condemned but soon released

Saudi human rights activist Lujain al-Hathloul was sentenced on Monday to five years and eight months in prison under an โ€œanti-terrorismโ€ law, a suspended sentence that makes her release in a few months, according to her family.

Luzhain al-Hathloul, 31, was convicted of โ€œvarious activities prohibited by the anti-terrorism law,โ€ said pro-power online media Sabq, who attended the hearing.

According to Saudi media outlets, the sentence is suspended for two years and ten months โ€œprovided that it does not commit a new crime within three yearsโ€.

The period spent in remand is taken into account what makes Luzhain al-Hathloul, arrested in May 2018, released in โ€œtwo monthsโ€, tweeted her sister Lina.

A source close to the family and London-based opposition group ALQST said she would be released by March.

The court also banned the activist from leaving the kingdom for five years, added Lina al-Hathloul, noting that her sister intended to appeal the judgment.

โ€œLuzhain cried when she heard the conviction today,โ€ Tweeted Lina al-Hathloul. โ€œAfter almost three years of arbitrary detention, torture and solitary confinement, they condemn her and qualify her as a terrorist.โ€

โ€œWe are extremely disappointed with this verdict (…) We are going to appeal even if we have no hope in the Saudi judicial system,โ€ Walid al-Hathloul, their brother, told AFP who was interrogated from Canada. โ€œShe cried because she was called a terrorist.โ€

According to him, โ€œthe intervention of the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) in the proceedings does not show that the trial was independent, rather it shows that he had political motives.โ€

This judgment represents for the Saudi government a โ€œexit strategy while keeping the faceโ€ in the face of strong international pressures for the liberation of Luzhain al-Hathloul, the source close to the family told AFP.

She had been arrested, along with other activists, shortly before the lifting of the driving ban on Saudi women, a reform for which these women were campaigning.

โ€œUnjust and disturbingโ€

Saudi Arabia is highly criticized by NGOs for its human rights record, which regularly embarrassed its Western partners.

US President-elect Joe Biden, who is scheduled to take office officially in three weeks, had tough words about the repression in Saudi Arabia.

Jake Sullivan, his future national security adviser, criticized Luzhain al-Hathlouls conviction on Twitter as โ€œunjust and disturbing.โ€

The UN Human Rights Office also found the ruling โ€œdeeply disturbingโ€, describing the detention of the activist as โ€œarbitraryโ€.

โ€œWe understand that an upcoming release is possible and we strongly encourage it and urgently,โ€ he tweeted.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, denounced a โ€œshamefulโ€ judgment, claiming that the activist had been convicted for โ€œclaiming her rights.โ€

According to Amnesty International, the suspension does not detract from condemnation the regimes โ€œcrueltyโ€ to โ€œone of the most courageous womenโ€ in the kingdom.

France and Germany called on the Saudi authorities to โ€œreleaseโ€ her quickly.

The German government has ruled that โ€œreleasing Ms. al-Hathloul now and therefore before the conclusion of the trialโ€ would be a โ€œpositive signโ€.

Lujain al-Hathloul began a hunger strike in prison on 26 October before interrupting him two weeks later, according to his family and Amnesty International.

His family had announced at the end of November that his case had been transferred to a terrorism court, established in 2008 and which was widely used to try political prisoners, according to human rights organizations.

Peaceful actions

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud revealed at the beginning of December that Luzhain al-Hathloul was accused of having been in contact with states โ€œhostileโ€ to the kingdom and conveying confidential information.

But the Saudi government has provided no tangible evidence to support these accusations, according to the activists relatives.

An activist of Saudi womens cause, Luzhain al-Hathloul has carried out peaceful actions in the ultra-conservative kingdom, defending Saudi womens right to drive and opposing guardianship putting the woman at the full mercy ofthe man.

A graduate of the Canadian University of British Columbia (UBC), she is โ€” like other activists โ€” described as a โ€œtraitorโ€ by the local press for having contacts with diplomats and international NGOs.

Her family claims that she was subjected to sexual harassment and torture while in detention. The authorities denied such allegations.

This is not the first time that the Saudi woman, familiar with social media and from Al-Qassim, a conservative region in central Saudi Arabia, has found herself behind bars.

She was arrested at the end of 2014 for attempting to enter Saudi Arabia driving a car from the United Arab Emirates. She had been released from prison 73 days later, following an international campaign.