Saudi Loujain al-Hathloul Sentenced to Nearly 6 Years in Prison After Advocating for Women's Right to Drive

Two Saudi women driving. Loujain al-Hathloul not pictured.
Loujain al-Hathloul, not pictured, was one of the women who advocated for a woman's right to drive. Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images

Saudi Arabia's terrorism court sentenced Loujain al-Hathloul to almost six years in prison

When Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested two years ago after speaking publicly about a woman's right to drive, her case was widely censored by the local government. Still, Hathloul, 31, was met with support from the global audience and human rights groups whose ears curved acutely, calling for her release, as the activist awaited sentencing, according to reports.

Today, Saudi Arabia's terrorism court sentenced Hathloul to almost six years in prison, NPR reported. Among the charges she faced included calling for an end to male guardianship, applying for a UN job, attending digital privacy training, and communicating with international groups and media about women's rights, Reuters reported.

The Specialized Criminal Court has also suspended almost three years of her five years and eight-month sentence in light of her already serving over two years in prison, BBC reported. It is possible she can be released in less than three months. As part of her sentencing, Hathloul was placed on probation for three years and is restricted from traveling outside of the country for five years.

The family of the imprisoned activist has said on behalf of Hathloul that she was subject to electric shocks, whipping and sexual harassment, the outlet reported. The court has reportedly dismissed such claims. Her sister, Lina al-Hathloul, has posted updates to Twitter announcing the details of her sentence. 

“My sister is not a terrorist, she is an activist,” her sister said in a statement on Monday. She added that both the prosecutor and Hathloul can appeal to the ruling made Monday.

Hathloul was imprisoned weeks before Saudi women were granted the right to drive in June 2018. She became most notable for posting videos of herself driving as part of a 2013 campaign, according to Amnesty International USA. In 2014, she was detained for 73 days for attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates.

“The fact that Loujain al-Hathloul has been sentenced under the counterterrorism law, based on charges relating solely to her peaceful activism, is the latest travesty of justice in a trial that has been flawed from start to finish,” said Alaa Al-Siddiq, the executive director of ALQST, group that monitors Saudi political prisoners, The New York Times reported

Hathloul was one of 12 women’s rights activists detained since May 2018. Among those dozen women, three were arrested at the same time as Hathloul, two of whom were temporarily released in March 2019 on condition that they return to court, Aljazeera reported.

Another well-known activist, Samar Badawi, was referred to the special court after also campaigning, in a separate incident later that year, for a women’s right to drive and the imprisonment of her ex-husband and brother. She remains in jail along with three other women. Two were granted temporary release while others remain behind bars.