Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul released

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RYAD | Saudi human rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released Wednesday after nearly three years in prison, her family said, as Riyadh faces growing criticism over respect for human rights in the kingdom.

“Loujain has been released,” his sister Lina al-Hathloul wrote in Arabic on Twitter on Wednesday evening, adding in English that “Loujain is at home”.

“Loujain came home after 1001 days in prison,” wrote her sister, posting a smiling portrait of the 31-year-old activist.

Ms. Hathloul was arrested in May 2018, along with other activists, shortly before the lifting of the driving ban on Saudi women, a reform for which these women were campaigning.

She was sentenced on December 29 to five years and eight months in prison under an “anti-terrorism” law, including a two-year and ten-month suspension “on condition that she did not commit a new crime within three years. “.

With the period in pre-trial detention taken into account, her family was optimistic that she would be released by March.

The court also banned the activist from leaving the kingdom for five years, according to her family.

“The release of Loujain al-Hathloul after a terrible ordeal in prison in Saudi Arabia, which lasted almost three years, is an incredible relief,” said Lynn Maalouf of Amnesty International.

“Nothing can make up for the cruel treatment she suffered, nor the injustice of her imprisonment,” according to the organization.

American pressure

The United States hailed the young woman’s release, stressing that she should never have been imprisoned.

“It is certain that his release is a welcome step,” said the spokesman for the US Secretary of State, Ned Price. “Promoting women’s rights and other human rights should never be criminalized.”

According to a source close to her family, the verdict of December 29 was a “way out” for Saudi Arabia who wanted to “save face” in the face of mounting pressure from the international community for the release of Ms. Hathloul, especially with the prospect of Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House.

President Biden pledged during his election campaign to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state because of its human rights abuses, which his predecessor Donald Trump had largely overlooked during his tenure.

Mr Biden is expected to attempt to push for the release of prisoners with dual U.S. and Saudi citizenship, activists and even members of the royal family, many of whom are being held without formal charges.

“The elections matter and the arrival of the Biden administration, which has put human rights at the top of its priorities for Saudi Arabia, is having an impact,” commented on Wednesday at AFP Kristin Diwan of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

“We have to go further before we can talk about progress in terms of human rights,” he said.

An activist for the cause of Saudi women, Loujain al-Hathloul defended the right of women to drive and opposed tutelage putting women at the total mercy of men.

She had been described as a “traitor” by the local press for having had contact with diplomats and international NGOs.

Allegations of torture

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

The activist was the victim of sexual harassment and torture during her detention, according to her family, allegations denied by the authorities.

The young woman’s case was transferred at the end of November to a court responsible for “terrorism” cases, according to her family.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal ben Farhan revealed in early December that Loujain al-Hathloul was accused of having been in contact with states “hostile” to the kingdom and of having transmitted confidential information.

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

The UN human rights office in December deemed the sentence “deeply disturbing”, calling the activist’s detention “arbitrary”.

Amnesty International denounced the regime’s “cruelty” to “one of the bravest women” in the kingdom.

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