Saudi activist in court for first time since release

By: AFP      Published: 11:13 PM, 2 Mar, 2021
Saudi activist in court for first time since release

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul appeared in court Tuesday for the first time since her provisional release from prison last month, as she appealed restrictions including a five-year travel ban, her family said.

Hathloul, 31, best known for campaigning against a decades-long ban on female drivers, was detained in May 2018 with about a dozen other women activists –- just weeks before the ban was lifted.

The release of Hathloul, who is still on probation and is barred from leaving Saudi Arabia for five years, came as the kingdom faces renewed US scrutiny of its human rights record under President Joe Biden. 

"Today was the first day Loujain appeared in court without being handcuffed or blindfolded," her family said in a statement.

In late December, a court handed Hathloul a prison term of five years and eight months for terrorism-related crimes, but a partially suspended sentence -- and time already served -- paved the way for her early release last month.

The public prosecution on Tuesday appealed to raise her sentence and cancel the suspension, the family statement said. 

Saudi authorities have not officially commented on her detention, trial or release

Hathloul is appealing her sentence as well as restrictions placed on her and her family. 

"Her sentence includes numerous restrictions including a pledge that Loujain had to sign as part of her release which states that she cannot speak publicly about her case or reveal any details regarding prison nor celebrate her release on a public level," the family said. 

Hathloul's siblings based overseas say her parents are also barred from leaving the kingdom even though they are not charged with any crime.

Ahead of the hearing, Amnesty International demanded on Twitter that Hathloul "must be unconditionally free" to travel.

Hathloul's family has alleged that the activist experienced torture and sexual harassment in detention, claims repeatedly dismissed by a Saudi court.

Hathloul's next court hearing is scheduled for March 10, her family said.

While some women activists detained along with Hathloul have been provisionally released, several others remain imprisoned on what campaigners describe as opaque charges.

The detentions have cast a spotlight on the human rights record of the kingdom, an absolute monarchy which has also faced intense criticism over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate.

Last week, Washington released a long-delayed intelligence report that accused Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of approving Khashoggi's murder, drawing a rebuke from Riyadh, which strongly rejected the assessment.