31-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul, one of the most prominent women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, has been released from prison after over 1,000 days.
She was granted probation by a judge in Riyadh. However, she is subject to a travel ban for five years and will remain on probation for a period of three years. She could be arrested for taking part in any illegal activity during this time.
Hathloul, a powerful campaigner for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia, was arrested in May 2018 in a crackdown on well-known opponents of the Saudi Kingdom. According to a charge sheet released by her family in December last year, Loujain was convicted on charges of harming national security and using her relations with foreign governments and rights groups to “pressure the Kingdom to change its laws and systems.”
Human rights organizations across the world, including the United Nations, have repeatedly said that these charges are spurious.
She was detained just a few weeks before the Kingdom historically revoked the a decades-long ban on female drivers, a reform that Hathloul had long campaigned for. It is widely believed that this move was made by the Kingdom as a reminder that any changes in laws in the Kingdom would be allowed only on the terms of the Crown Prince.
Journalist and activist Nouf Abdulaziz, who had written in support of Hathloul and was detained at the same time, was also released along with Hathloul.
One of her sisters, Lina Alhathloul, who is based in Belgium, put up a tweet with a screen garb of her sister with a simple but moving message – “Loujain is at home !!!!!!”
Loujain is at home !!!!!!
تم الافراج عن لجين pic.twitter.com/fqug9VK6Mj
— Lina Alhathloul لينا الهذلول (@LinaAlhathloul) February 10, 2021
She has told her family that she had been tortured and sexually abused in prison, a claim that officials deny.
Her release from prison comes weeks after recently elected President of the United States, Joe Biden has promised to “defend the right of activists, political dissidents, and journalists around the world to speak their minds freely without fear of persecution and violence.”
“We’re excited (about her release), but the fight for justice is not over yet,” Hathloul’s brother, Walid al-Hathloul, told CNN before the announcement. “We would have to work very hard to secure justice for Loujain, but we’re very delighted for this news.”
“Any release that does not include an independent investigation of the charges, does not include lifting the travel ban, does not include dropping the charges, is not freedom,” said Walid al-Hathloul. “Therefore we’re far away from justice.”
Apart from President Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron had also strongly called for Hathloul’s release last year. He welcomed the news, tweeting that he “shared the relief of her family”.
While Hathloul has been released, there are several other women right’s activists such as Samar Badawi that have still been detained in the Saudi Kingdom.
We hope Hathloul’s release is a harbinger of more good news for such activists.