DUBAI – One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists was sentenced Monday to nearly six years in prison under a vague and broadly worded counterterrorism law. The ruling nearly brings to a close a case that has drawn international criticism and the ire of U.S. lawmakers.
Loujain al-Hathloul has already been in pre-trial detention and has endured several stretches of solitary confinement. Her continued imprisonment was likely to be a point of contention in relations between the kingdom and the incoming presidency of Joe Biden, whose inauguration takes place in January — around two months before what is now expected to be al-Hathloul’s release date.
Al-Hathloul could be released in March 2021 based on time already served, according to rights group “Prisoners of Conscience,” which focuses on Saudi political detainees. She has been imprisoned since May 2018, and 34 months of her sentencing will be suspended.
Her family said in a statement she will be barred from leaving the kingdom for five years and required to serve three years of probation after her release.
Biden has vowed to review the U.S.-Saudi relationship and take into greater consideration human rights and democratic principles. He has also vowed to reverse President Donald Trump’s policy of giving Saudi Arabia “a blank check to pursue a disastrous set of policies,” including the targeting of female activists.
Jake Sullivan, Biden's incoming national security adviser, called the sentencing of al-Hathloul “unjust and troubling."
“As we have said, the Biden-Harris administration will stand up against human rights violations wherever they occur,“ he said in a tweet.
Al-Hathloul was found guilty and sentenced to five years and eight months by the kingdom’s anti-terrorism court on charges of agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda, using the internet to harm public order and cooperating with individuals and entities that have committed crimes under anti-terror laws, according to state-linked Saudi news site Sabq. The charges all come under the country’s broadly worded counterterrorism law.