Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist, was reportedly sentenced Monday to nearly six years in prison for alleged violations of the nation’s counterterrorism law.
Hathloul, 31, was arrested in 2018 with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists and has been held since, according to Reuters. She was charged with seeking to change the political landscape and threatening national security, Reuters reported. Hathloul had also called for an end to the country’s male guardianship rules and communicated with human rights groups, a reported violation of Saudi’s laws.
“She was charged, tried and convicted using counter-terrorism laws,” Hathloul’s sister, Lina al-Hathloul, said in a statement, according to the Associated Press (AP). “My sister is not a terrorist, she is an activist. To be sentenced for her activism for the very reforms that MBS [Mohammed bin Salman] and the Saudi kingdom so proudly tout is the ultimate hypocrisy.”
— FRANCE 24 (@FRANCE24) December 28, 2020
In handing down the nearly six-year sentence, the court cut two years and 10 months from her original sentence, according to Reuters. Hathloul has a conditional release and has already been in prison for years, which means she could be released toward the end of February 2021 but returned to prison at any time if she commits a crime, according to the report. She was also given a five-year travel ban, which can be appealed.
Human rights groups and Hathloul’s family say she has been subjected to abuse since her arrest, including waterboarding, sexual assault and electric shock, though Saudi authorities have denied the claims, according to the AP. (RELATED: American Citizen Sentenced To 6 Years In Saudi Prison Despite Appeals From The Trump Administration)
Hathloul’s sentencing could cause issues between U.S.-Saudi relations. President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to reverse President Donald Trump’s foreign policy initiatives with the nation that Biden said gives “a blank check to pursue a disastrous set of policies” against human rights, which includes the targeting of female activists, according to the AP.
Biden also threatened in October to cut aid to the nation due to its stance on LGBTQ issues while speaking at CNN’s LGBTQ forum.
“I would, in fact, curtail aid, curtail foreign assistance to countries who, in fact, engage in this kind of behavior,” he said. “Just like I would if I were dealing with China and what they’re doing to the Uighurs, a million Uighurs … Muslims. So what’s the difference? It is pure, unadulterated prejudice.”
“Saudi Arabia– same thing. They have very little social redeeming value,” he added, noting that there are certain policies he cannot tolerate, such as “propping up governments who abuse” others.
Saudi Arabia has a ban on same-sex marriage, which is even punishable by death, according to USA Today. Recently, Mohamad al-Bokari, a Yemeni blogger, was sentenced to 10 months in jail and then ordered to be deported back to Yemen after he posted a video on social media that called for equal rights, including for gay people, according to the Human Rights Watch.