Saudi women's rights activist sentenced to nearly six years in prison

Al-Hathloul could be released in March 2021 based on time already served, according to rights group ''Prisoners of Conscience'', which focuses on Saudi political detainees
Saudi women's rights activist sentenced to nearly six years in prison
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Dubai (PTI):

Loujain al-Hathloul has already been in pre-trial detention and has endured several stretches of solitary confinement. Her continued imprisonment was likely to be a point of contention in relations between the kingdom and the incoming presidency of Joe Biden, whose inauguration will take place in January, around two months before what is now expected to be al-Hathlouls release date.

Al-Hathloul could be released in March 2021 based on time already served, according to rights group ''Prisoners of Conscience'', which focuses on Saudi political detainees. She has been imprisoned since May 2018, and 34 months of her sentencing will be suspended.

Her family said in a statement that she will be barred from leaving the kingdom for five years and is required to serve three years of probation after her release.

Biden has vowed to review the US-Saudi relationship and take into greater consideration the human rights and democratic principles.

"Biden-Harris administration will stand up against human rights violations wherever they occur,'' he said in a tweet.

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Al-Hathloul was sentenced to five years and eight months by the kingdoms anti-terrorism court on charges of agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda, using the internet to harm public order and cooperating with individuals and entities that have committed crimes under anti-terror laws, according to state-linked Saudi news site Sabq.

The charges all come under the country's broadly worded counterterrorism law.

Al-Hathloul's family said the prosecutor's evidence included her contacts with rights group Amnesty International. She was also charged with speaking to European diplomats about human rights in Saudi Arabia, though that was later dropped by the prosecutor.

The longtime activist was first detained in 2014 under the previous monarch, King Abdullah, and held for more than 70 days after she attempted to Livestream herself driving from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia to protest the kingdom's ban on women driving.

She's also spoken out against guardianship laws that barred women from travelling abroad without the consent of a male relative.

The kingdom eased guardianship laws last year, allowing women to apply for a passport and travel freely.

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Her activism landed her multiple human rights awards and spreads in magazines like Vanity Fair in a photoshoot next to Meghan Markle, who would later become the Duchess of Sussex.

She was also a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

Her family said that in 2018, shortly after attending an UN-related meeting in Geneva about the situation of women's rights in Saudi Arabia, she was kidnapped by Emirati security forces in Abu Dhabi, where she'd been residing and pursuing a masters degree.

She was then forced on a plane to Saudi Arabia, where she was barred from travelling and later arrested.

Al-Hathloul was among three female activists targeted that year by state-linked media, which circulated her picture online and dubbed her a traitor.

Another Saudi women's rights activist, Mayaa al-Zahrani, was issued the same sentence for a similar list of charges by the Specialised Criminal Court, which tries terrorism cases, according to local media reports on Monday. Both women have 30 days to appeal the verdicts.

Several other women's rights activists remain imprisoned or continue to face trials on charges related to their activism, such as pushing for the right to drive before the ban was lifted in mid-2018. (PTI)

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