'The Fight Is Not Over': Prominent Women's Rights Activist Loujain al-Hathloul Released From Saudi Prison
Prominent Saudi human rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released Wednesday after over 1001 days in prison—a development welcomed by her supporters worldwide who stressed that the release must accompanied by her full, unconditional freedom.
Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa Lynn Maalouf said that "Loujain al-Hathloul's release after a harrowing ordeal in prison in Saudi Arabia—lasting nearly three years — is an incredible relief, but long overdue."
Her sister, Lina Alhathloul, shared news of her release on social media, writing that "Loujain is at home, but she is not free."
Loujain al-Hathloul, now 31, was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to five years and eight months in prison under Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism law after campaigning for women's right to drive and an end to the kingdom's repressive male guardianship system. Her sentence was later partially suspended.
As Reuters reported:
In March 2018 Hathloul was arrested in the UAE where she was studying and forcibly flown to Riyadh where she was held under house arrest before being moved to prison in May, rights groups say. She was among at least a dozen other women’s rights activists arrested, and Saudi media tarred them as traitors.
Rights groups say at least three of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual assault. Saudi authorities have denied torture allegations.
"Her detention," NBC News noted, "came amid a sweeping crackdown on intellectuals, clerics, women's rights activists, and members of the royal family presided over by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman." Widely known as MbS, the crown prince lifted the ban on women driving in 2018—after al-Hathloul's arrest—and has portrayed himself, with corporate media often abetting the depiction, as leading the kingdom in progressive reforms.
Al-Hathloul's release, as her sister indicated on Twitter, comes with conditions.
According to CNN:
Hathloul will remain on probation for three years following her release, during which time she could be arrested for any perceived illegal activity, the family said in a statement in December. She will also be banned from traveling for five years, they said.
"Loujain’s family is asking people to not use the term 'freedom' to describe Loujain’s release," Danaka Katovich, the Yemen coordinator for CODEPINK, said in a statement. "It's true that she is not free just yet, we need to keep advocating for the conditions of her release to be dropped so Loujain can speak and move freely."
Saying that she "should never have been imprisoned," Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth tweeted Wednesday that al-Hathloul "is not free," since she's "still banned from travel and coerced into silence by a suspended sentence hanging over her. Her ordeal remains a flagrant miscarriage of justice."
Amnesty's Maalouf concurred.
"Nothing can make up for the cruel treatment [al-Hathloul] has suffered, nor the injustice of her imprisonment. During her time in prison she was tortured and sexually harassed, held in solitary confinement and was denied access to her family for months at a time," said Maalouf.
Maalouf further urged the kingdom's authorities to "ensure those responsible for her torture and other ill-treatment are brought to justice," and that "she is not subjected to any further punitive measures such as a travel ban."
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement that it was clear al-Hathloul "is a resiliant, bold defender of the rights of all humanity, and surely such stipulations will not silence her."
"But," Nossel continued, "we will not relent until she is granted full freedom to speak, work, travel, and live freely."
That freedom, according to al-Hathloul's family, will include working for justice for other imprisoned activists in Saudi Arabia.
On al-Hathloul's case itself, her family expects her to keep fighting to prove that she and other prisoners were subjected to torture while detained—which a court in Saudi Arabia said earlier this week that she has failed to prove. She'll also push for the release of other activists.
Among the U.S. lawmakers weighing in on the development was Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). In a tweet, Omar called al-Hathloul's release "wonderful news!" and wrote that Saudi Arabia must now "allow her to leave the country and release the rest of the women's rights activists still in prison."
"While they're at it," Omar added, Saudi Arabia "should stop murdering and dismembering dissidents, allowing marital rape, blockading, starving, and slaughtering thousands of Yemeni civilians, fueling the climate crisis, discriminating against religious minorities and allowing modern day slavery."
Andrea Germanos is senior editor and a staff writer at Common Dreams.