Paris – The Francophone Association for Human Rights (AFDH) is concerned for the well being and ill-treatment of Loujain al-Hathoul, a prominent Saudi women rights defender who remains behind bars for her peaceful activism. May 15, 2020 marked 2 years since her unlawful arrest and detention.
As a women’s rights activist and prominent social media figure, Loujain al-Hathloul had been arrested several times for her women’s rights activism, such as her role in the “Women to Drive Movement,” a campaign led by Saudi Arabian women to defy the country’s female driving ban. In 2014, she was arrested for driving from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Saudi Arabia, despite having a UAE drivers license. She was arrested and detained for 73 days before being released.
Al-Hathloul also strongly advocated for the end to Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, which hugely discriminates against women. In 2017 she was arrested and later released, the reason why still remains unclear.
In March 2018, Loujain Al-Hathoul was kidnapped from UAE and deported to Saudi Arabia where she was arrested and detained for a few days and then issued a travel ban. On 15 May, 2018, al-Hathloul was arrested again, this time alongside at least 13 other women in a sweeping campaign against women’s rights activists for their alleged attempt at “overthrowing the kingdom” and “communicating with foreign entities” and “offering financial support to enemies overseas,” with no further elaboration from the government.
A little over one month later, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ratified the end to the oppressive female driving ban, allowing women to drive as of 24 June, 2018.
Two years later, despite the government’s so-called promises of reform, Loujain, along with several other activists remain in prison. Saudi Arabia’s alarming intolerance for female activism and zero-tolerance campaign towards dissidents is authorizing multiple human rights violations, all of which are infringing on basic human rights and international law.
The conditions surrounding al-Hathloul’s detention and trial have been met with grave injustice. For the first 10 months of her detention, she was held without charges or trial. She was also held incommunicado, without access to a lawyer or her family during the first three months of her detention. Her trial has been ongoing since 13 March, 2019 in the Specialised Criminal Court for counter-terrorism cases. All of her court sessions have been closed and journalists, diplomats and family members have been consistently prohibited from attending her court sessions. Al-Hathloul was supposed to stand trial on 11 March, 2020 which was postponed to 18 March, 2020 without reason. Her trial has again been postponed without a new date.
AFDH is deeply concerned for the physical and mental well-being of Loujain. Since her kidnapping and arrest in May 2018, there have been credible reports detailing her subjection to violent torture and abuse. Her siblings wrote in a New York Times op-ed in January 2019, that Loujain had been held in solitary confinement, beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed and threatened with rape and murder. An exceptional visit in prison by her parents in December 2018 allowed them to see her thighs covered in black bruises and scars from repeated electric shocks. The Times op-ed also claimed that Saud al-Qahtani, a previous adviser to the Crown Prince, personally oversaw her torture and threatned her rape and murder.
In an interview for Time Magazine on the two year anniversary of Loujain’s time in prison, her sister, Lina al-Hathloul spoke of Loujain’s sentencing being repeatedly postponed and the effect this was having on Loujain, “She’s starting to lose hope.” In August last year, Loujain was offered a ‘chance to be released’ in exchange for a verbal video statement saying she had not been tortured. When asked why Loujain refused this offer, Lina said, “Even if they would have released her, Loujain is in prison because she’s been fighting for other women and for all the Saudi people. I don’t think it would make any sense for her to be free while accepting this. She’d rather be in prison, following her values and fighting, than be released and lose these two years for nothing.”
Lina al-Hathloul paid tribute to Loujain on Twitter, “On this day, 2 years ago, my sister Loujain al-Hathloul was illegally arrested & arbitrarily detained. She still wakes up every morning in a prison cell. We celebrate you on this infamous day & every day. We won’t ever let you down.”
Loujain al-Hathloul’s bogus detention and trial contradicts the government’s drive for reforms in the kingdom. Provoking real change means establishing true justice for those that have been punished for their human rights work. Loujain Al-Hathoul is not calling for the overthrow of the government, but for reasonable reform that ensures equal rights for both men and women in Saudi Arabia.
Loujain al-Hathloul has been repeatedly harassed for years and stripped of her right to a fair trial. AFDH calls on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her and we call upon the Saudi royals to implement genuine reforms and stop the targeting of women’s rights defenders and other activists peacefully exercising their right to free speech.