Reportage. The verdict against the women's rights activist in prison since 2018 will be pronounced on Monday and the prosecutor will ask for a very severe sentence. Al Hathloul is accused of acting against King Salman.

Saudi activist Loujain al Hathloul faces 20 years in prison

The alarm was raised on Thursday, when the judge of the special anti-terrorism court announced that the verdict for Loujain al Hathloul, the most well-known of the Saudi women’s rights activists, could be delivered by next Monday. Her sister Lina warned that the prosecutor could seek a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Loujain is accused of communicating with people “hostile” to King Salman, collaborating with journalists aligned against Saudi Arabia and spreading information harmful to the kingdom’s security. These are actually considered acts of terrorism in the Saudi kingdom.

“They say she is a terrorist – in reality she is a humanitarian, an activist and a woman who simply wants a better fairer world … All she has done is ask for women to be treated with the dignity and freedom that should be their right,” said Lina al Hathloul to The Guardian.

In mid-2018, Loujain Al Hathloul was arrested with a dozen other activists, just weeks before the ban on women driving was lifted by the powerful heir to the Saudi throne, Mohammed bin Salman, as part of his plan to “modernize” the kingdom. This right was conquered thanks to a long battle in which Loujain had been the protagonist. The arrest order must have come from the crown prince himself, who in recent years has proved to be not a reformer, but a brutal repressor of political opponents and rivals within his family.

Why the case of Loujain al Hathloul was suddenly transferred from an ordinary court to a special anti-terrorism court a few weeks ago remains a mystery. The protests and appeals for her release made by international personalities and NGOs for the protection of human rights have been without effect; nor did the hunger strike started by the activist herself in prison change anything.

The Al Hathloul family, summoned on Thursday morning in court, has denounced the sexual abuse and torture that Loujain reported she’d suffered from her captors. The prosecutor replied that he was not able to verify this because the prison surveillance camera footage is deleted after 40 days. Then, he invoked as evidence of guilt Loujain’s tweets during campaigns for the right to drive for women and for prisoners’ rights.

“All they have are a bunch of tweets they did not like,” commented Walid al Hathloul, the activist’s brother, urging the international community to intervene before the verdict on Monday.

In recent years, the Saudi authorities’ strategy has been to destroy the reputation of human rights activists and point an accusing finger towards Iran to divert attention from the abuses taking place in the heart of Riyadh. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2, 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has sparked international outrage. A crime for which, as many suspect, Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the instigator as well.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!