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Saudi Arabia: Activist Loujain al-Hathloul released

February 10, 2021

A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Hathloul was arrested just before the ban on female driving was lifted. She had also protested against the male guardianship system, in which women have limited rights without male consent.

Loujain al-Hathloul, Saudi women's rights activist
Image: Getty Images/AFP/Facebook/Loujain al-Hathloul

Saudi Arabia released women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul after nearly three years in prison, her family announced on Wednesday.

Hathloul was arrested in May 2018, along with about a dozen other female activists, after pushing hard to end the ban on women drivers that had been in existence for several decades in Saudi Arabia. Three weeks after she was detained, the country lifted the ban.

Until that point, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world to prohibit women from driving an automobile. 

How her family feels

The release of al-Hathloul, who is still under probation, sparked celebration among her siblings who had launched a campaign on her behalf.

"Loujain is at home!!!!!!!" her sister Lina al-Hathloul posted on Twitter.

"At home after 1001 days in prison," she added, along with a picture of the smiling activist.

In December last year, the 31-year-old was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison by the Saudi Specialized Criminal Court on the basis of Article 43 of the country’s Law against Terrorism and Financing Crimes.

The UN described the punishment as "spurious" under broad counter-terrorism laws. The court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, most of which had already been served.

US pleased, but critical of Saudi Arabia

The United States called al-Hathloul's release a "very welcome development," while adding she should never have been sent to prison in the first place.

"Promoting and advocating for women's rights and other human rights should never be criminalized," said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Al-Hathloul still faces a five-year travel ban ordered by the Saudi court.

Human rights organizations, as well as her family, said Hathloul, who had campaigned for women's right to drive and to end Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system, was subjected to abuse, including electric shocks, waterboarding, flogging and sexual assault.

Saudi authorities denied any wrongdoing.

jsi/sms (AFP, Reuters)