Loujain al-Hathloul: Saudi activist 'loses appeal against sentence'

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Loujain al-Hathloul walks to an appeal hearing at a court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (10 March 2021)Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Loujain al-Hathloul was instrumental in the campaign to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has lost an appeal against her sentence, her family says.

Ms Hathloul was released on probation last month after almost three years in prison, but she is subject to a five-year travel ban and other restrictions.

On Wednesday, her sister said a court had upheld her sentence for violating a counter-terrorism law.

Ms Hathloul has insisted she committed no crime and vowed to bring to justice officials she accuses of torturing her.

The 31-year-old was instrumental in the campaign to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia.

She was detained in May 2018, just weeks before the ban was lifted, along with about a dozen other female activists as part of an apparent crackdown on dissent overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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Ros Atkins on Joe Biden’s first foreign policy test - how to deal with Saudi Arabia

For the first three months, she was held incommunicado, without access to her family and lawyer.

Human rights organisations later reported accusations that interrogators had tortured her and at least three other women during that time, including with electronic shocks and whippings, and had sexually harassed them. The Saudi government has denied she was mistreated.

Last December, a terrorism tribunal found Ms Hathloul guilty of "inciting change to the basic ruling regime" and "serving a foreign agenda inside the kingdom by using the internet with the objective of damaging public order".

Saudi officials said the charges were related to Ms Hathloul's contacts with foreign diplomats, media, and activist groups. But UN human rights experts described the charges as "spurious".

While the judge suspended part of her prison sentence of five years and eight months, paving the way for her release, he warned that the suspension would be annulled if she committed any crimes within the next three years. He also banned her from leaving Saudi Arabia for five years.

At the first appeal hearing last week, Ms Hathloul was asked by the judge whether she wished to show repentance, according to her brother Walid.

"She replied that she had proven in all her defences that she had not committed any crime based on local and international laws. So, on what basis would she present her repentance?" he wrote on Twitter.

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Before Wednesday's hearing, Ms Hathloul made her first public comments since she was detained, telling people gathered outside the court: "Let's hope that the sentence has been changed or modified a little bit."

But her sister Lina later tweeted: "UPDATE: The judges confirmed the first sentencing of @LoujainHathloul, which means SA confirms considering the UK, the EU, and the Netherlands 'terrorist entities' and contacting them a 'terrorist act'. #FreeLoujain."

There was no immediate comment from Saudi authorities.