A Saudi court yesterday upheld the original sentence of women’s rights activist Loujain Al-Hathloul, who had championed women’s right to drive and for an end to Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, Reuters reported.
Al-Hathloul was sentenced in December to nearly six years in prison under broad cybercrime and counterterrorism laws after a lengthy trial that drew widespread international condemnation, but she was released last month having served half of her custodial sentence.
Walking to the courthouse yesterday morning before the appeals hearing, Al-Hathloul, 31, told reporters she hoped Riyadh’s Special Criminal Court would amend her sentence – her first public comments since her 2018 arrest. The court, however, ruled that it would stand.
Rights groups condemned the court’s decision.
“By failing to quash Loujain al-Hathloul’s conviction, the Saudi Arabian authorities have clearly demonstrated that they consider peaceful activism a crime,” said Amnesty International’s Lynn Maalouf.
Al-Hathloul was detained in May 2018 and sentenced in December to nearly six years in prison on charges that United Nations rights experts called spurious.
The court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, most of which had already been served. Al-Hathloul, whose release is conditional, remains under a five-year travel ban.
Al-Hathloul rose to prominence in 2013 when she began publicly campaigning for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy.
Saudi law had previously banned women from driving but it was changed in June 2018, allowing them to do so.
She was arrested for the first time in 2014 while attempting to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates – where she had a valid driver’s licence – to Saudi Arabia.
She spent 73 days in a women’s detention facility, an experience she later said helped shape her campaigning against the conservative kingdom’s male guardianship system.