Saudi Arabia women’s rights activist sentenced to five years imprisonment by terror offences court News
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Saudi Arabia women’s rights activist sentenced to five years imprisonment by terror offences court

Well-known women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced to five years and eight months imprisonment Monday in Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) for terrorism and national security offences.

Reuters reported that 31-year-old al-Hathloul was charged under sweeping counter-terrorism laws with “seeking to change the Saudi political system and harming national security”. Given that al-Hathloul was first arrested and detained in May 2018, two years and 10 months of her nearly six-year sentence were suspended to account for time that she has already served.

Al-Hathloul is known for protesting against Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving including filming herself driving home from the airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city. al-Hathloul, among other women’s rights activists, remains detained by authorities for her actions despite the ban having been lifted in June 2018.

“She was charged, tried and convicted using counter-terrorism laws,” al-Hathloul’s sister commented in a statement. “My sister is not a terrorist, she is an activist. To be sentenced for her activism for the very reforms that MBS and the Saudi kingdom so proudly tout is the ultimate hypocrisy.”

Al-Hathloul sister’s concerns are shared by National Security Advisor for President-elect Biden, Jake Sullivan, who tweeted “Saudi Arabia’s sentencing of Loujain al-Hathloul for simply exercising her universal rights is unjust and troubling. As we have said, the Biden-Harris administration will stand up against human rights violations wherever they occur.”

The use of the SCC has been criticized by human rights commentators. When al-Hathloul’s trial was transferred to the SCC in November, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, stated that the SCC is “an institution used to silence dissent and notorious for issuing lengthy prison sentences following seriously flawed trials. This is yet another sign that Saudi Arabia’s claims of reform on human rights are a farce.” The non-governmental organization also released a report earlier this year finding that “[t]rials before the SCC are a mockery of justice”.

Despite criticism, the SCC is reported to be set to look into al-Hathloul’s allegations of torture and abuse sustained while detained–allegations which Saudi Arabian authorities have denied. According to Amnesty International, for the first three months of her detainment, al-Hathloul was “held incommunicado with no access to her family or lawyer” and “beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed, and threatened with rape and murder.”

According to al-Hathloul’s sister, the activist will appeal her sentence, which she has 30 days to do.

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