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Saudi Arabia sentences Loujain al-Hathloul to prison: Human rights advocacy is not a crime

لقرائته بالعربية اضغط هنا

On 28 December 2020, the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh issued an unjust first instance judgment sentencing human rights advocate Loujain al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison, with two years and ten months suspended.

Loujain was arrested on 18 May 2018, amid Saudi Arabia’s ruthless campaign against the country’s most prominent women activists, before the ban on women driving was lifted. The campaign of arrests clearly showed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not sincere regarding his claim to improve the women’s rights situation. By suppressing women activists, he wants to send a violent message that prison and torture are the fate of all who intend to continue their legal struggle.

Within days of her arrest, Loujain suffered enforced disappearance in a secret prison (a villa) for several weeks. She was systematically tortured in this location, where unknown, masked persons worked. A former royal court advisor, Saud al-Qahtani, oversaw one of the torture sessions, threatening that she would be raped, cut up, and thrown into the sewer system. Loujain’s family also said that she was sexually harassed.

Loujain’s trial in the Specialized Criminal Court began on 13 March 2019. However, on the same day, her case was transferred to the criminal court in Riyadh without the court in the case ruling on its lack of jurisdiction. This was a clear violation of the Law of Criminal Procedure that stipulates that a case shall not be transferred until after a ruling has been rendered and then returned once again to the competent authority. The trial sessions did not proceed at a steady pace—there were postponements and delays, followed by a rush unprecedented in the history of the court, with six sessions held in fewer than three weeks.

The arrest of Loujain and other men and women activists confirms the severity of oppression in Saudi Arabia and the rejection of voices calling for reform. ESOHR believes that Saudi Arabia conducts sham trials that lack the most basic standards of fairness. Moreover, ESOHR sees the judiciary’s failure to seriously address Loujain’s complaints of torture as evidence of the court’s lack of impartiality and its dependence on the Presidency of State Security.

ESOHR believes that the judgment rendered against Loujain is void because it was issued by an illegitimate court that lacks independence, fairness, and impartiality. ESOHR also considers Loujain’s arrest arbitrary and believes that those who participated in and caused her detention and torture should be tried.

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