Prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathoul was convicted Monday by a local terrorism court, but is set to be released on parole early next year, in a case that has garnered intense Western criticism of Riyadh’s human rights record.
Ms. Hathloul was picked up in May 2018 just as the conservative kingdom allowed women to drive, something she and other detained activists had long advocated. She was charged with aiding an enemy country and destabilizing the Saudi regime, as well as speaking with foreign journalists and diplomats, contacting Saudi dissidents living abroad and applying for a job at the United Nations.
The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, a tribunal set up in 2008 to try al Qaeda suspects, sentenced her Monday to five years and eight months in jail, starting from the date of her arrest, according to her family and people familiar with the case. A reduction for time served means she will likely be released in March on three years’ probation, with a five-year travel ban. The sentence can be appealed.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, has accused women’s rights activists of espionage on behalf of regional rivals Qatar and Iran. Earlier in December, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said Ms. Hathloul had allegedly passed classified information to unfriendly states. The two officials have denied that Ms. Hathloul’s activism was the reason for her detention.
However, Ms. Hathloul’s family said the only evidence presented against her in court, which was closed to foreign journalists and diplomats, were tweets about women driving and videos of her discussing male guardianship, a system requiring Saudi women to obtain permission from a male relative for decisions such as traveling abroad.
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