Loujain al-Hathloul, a renowned Saudi advocate of women’s rights, has been sentenced to five years and eight months in prison, local media have reported. However, an early release is also reportedly possible for her in February.
The 31-year-old, who rose to prominence in 2013 while campaigning for making driving licenses available to women in Saudi Arabia, has been in custody since March 2018, when she was arrested at Riyadh’s request in the United Arab Emirates.
She was accused of a number of crimes under Saudi counter-terrorism laws, including attempting to change the kingdom’s political system and undermining national security. According to Sabq and al-Shark al-Awsat newspapers, a court passed the sentence on her on Monday. Most of the time she remained incarcerated was deducted from the sentence and there is a possibility of a conditional early release coming as soon as the end of February, the reports said.
Hathloul’s defenders say she was subjected to humiliating treatment, sexual assault and torture while in Saudi custody. At least twice in 2020 she was reported by family as going on a hunger strike to protest the conditions of her detention. Riyadh denies the allegations of having abused its prisoner.
Last month, Hathloul’s case was transferred from a regular criminal court to a special terrorism court.
The activist was one of at least a dozen like-minded individuals arrested by Saudi Arabia in 2018.
Of the arrested activists, some have been released while their prosecutions proceed. Nassimah al-Saadah was sentenced to five years in prison with two suspended in late November, according to reports.
Saudi Arabia, a major oil producer, is a key US ally in the Middle East and a major buyer of US-made weapons. Critics say Washington tends to turn a blind eye on Riyadh’s violations of human rights, both at home and abroad, as long as American strategic interests are observed.