Emblematic figure of human rights defenders as of the repressive turn taken by the Saudi crown, feminist activist Loujaïne Al-Hathloul was sentenced, Monday, December 28, to five years and eight months in prison by the kingdom’s anti-terrorism court; she was found guilty of intelligence with foreign parties and of “Various activities prohibited by the anti-terrorism law”. The verdict is accompanied by a suspension of sentence of two years and ten months. Loujaïne Al-Hathloul, 31, has been detained for three years in solitary confinement, and should therefore be released in March after nearly three years in detention.
The activist, known in particular for her fight for the right of women to drive in the kingdom, was imprisoned in May 2018, along with four other human rights defenders, then kept in total isolation for seven months.
A warning to civil society
Three months earlier, she had been arrested in the United Arab Emirates, where she was residing, and had been handed over to security services in Riyadh. Or a few months before the lifting of the ban on Saudi women driving; a decree then presented by the regime’s communicators as one of the flagship measures of a program of openness and social modernization driven by the crown prince of the Wahhabi power, Mohamed Ben Salman (known as “MBS”), within the framework of of Vision 2030, its plan to modernize the kingdom.
These arrests of women presented as “Traitors” by the media resonated as a warning to civil society, a sign that any societal transformation in Saudi Arabia could only be done from above and by the prince and should in no way appear as a concession granted to activists.
In October 2018, MBS’s image as a reformer was definitely undermined by the expedition of a Saudi commando group that assassinated the journalist and opponent Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul (Turkey). The following year, Saudi Arabia executed 184 people, according to Amnesty International. A record number in one year.
Riyadh had claimed to have arrested Loujaïne Al-Hathlouthi because she would have sought to undermine the authority of the royal family and thus change the constitutional order of the country. The “evidence” gathered provided a legal basis capable of silencing any beginning of dissent. And to intimidate any independent association.
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