By Mason Quah
SAUDI Women’s Rights Loujain al-Hathloul activist has been released from prison after three years of detainment. Amnesty International calls her release “long overdue” and advocates for the immediate release of other civil rights figures that are still being held.
During her time in prison she was subjected to torture, denied access to her family and sexually harassed.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are concerned that further punitive measures will be implemented outside of prison, including banning her from travel. These measures have been used previously in Saudi Arabia to control the movements of civil rights protesters released from prison.
Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch told Redaction Politics: “Loujain’s years-long imprisonment has ended, but she is not free. Banned from travel and coerced into silence by a suspended sentence hanging over her, Loujain’s ordeal remains a flagrant miscarriage of justice.”
This is not the first time that Loujain has been detained in Saudi Arabia, having previously spent time in prison for driving at a time when women were prohibited by law from doing so. The repeal of the ban on women in Saudi Arabia driving came into effect in June 2018.
Other figures in the Saudi struggle for civil rights have also been in detainment.
Saudi Arabia has an extensive history of human rights abuses, and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index classifies Saudi Arabia as an Authoritarian Regime.
The country has not held back in its use of the death penalty – including one mass execution in 2019 of thirty-seven individuals.
Executions in Saudi Arabia have included protesters who were underage at the time of their original crimes and arrests. Abdulkareem al-Hawaj was arrested at age sixteen and executed after four years in detention.
Ali al-Nimr was arrested at seventeen for his participation in the Arab Spring demonstrations from 2011 to 2012 and his death sentence was only commuted in 2021.
Anti-death penalty groups took a particular opposition to this these cases, with the application of death penalties against people under the age of 18 being prohibited by international law.
Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, Lynn Maalouf, described the execution spree as “a chilling demonstration of the Saudi Arabian Authorities’ callous disregard for human life.”
In April 2020, Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree ending the use of the death penalty against people who committed crimes as minors.
The release of an activist such as Loujain should not be seen as a full victory when the Saudi Government are still committed to monitoring them post release with the intent to re-arrest them later. The continued detainment and executions of other prominent civil rights figures is the greater indicator of the country’s intentions towards these movements.
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