A thousand and one days

Free at last!

The prominent Saudi dissident and women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has been released from prison after 1,001 days in custody.

Following a concerted campaign by her relatives and global rights groups, Hathloul was granted probation by a judge in Riyadh and released to her family on Wednesday afternoon. Her sister Lina published a photo of a smiling Loujain on Twitter early evening Riyadh time – the first image of the most celebrated political prisoner in the Kingdom since she was detained almost three years ago. “Loujain is at home !!!!!!”, the accompanying message said.

It is understood that the terms of Hathloul’s probation prevent her from discussing her ordeal in prison. She is banned from leaving Saudi Arabia, and has a suspended sentence looming if she breaks the terms of her release.

So, not free, but out of prison, which is a lot better than being in.

Hathloul launched hunger strikes to protest against her imprisonment and joined other female activists in telling Saudi judges that she was tortured and sexually assaulted by masked men during interrogations. The women say they were caned, electrocuted and waterboarded. Some say they were forcibly groped and threatened with rape. Hathloul’s parents said they noticed bruising when they visited her in prison. …

Hathloul became a cause célèbre for leading Democrats in the US during her imprisonment and her case had been championed by Joe Biden during his presidential election campaign. The release of the activist is thought to at least in part be connected to Biden’s election win.

Unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, who fully embraced Prince Mohammed and showed no interest in the Kingdom’s human rights controversies, Biden has been noticeably cooler towards Riyadh and has vowed to reassess the US-Saudi partnership and stand up for human rights and democratic principles.

Hathloul is only one of many, of course.

Lucy Rae, a spokeswoman for Grant Liberty, which campaigns for the rights of prisoners in Saudi Arabia, said: “Loujain al-Hathloul leaves prison a hero – brutalised by the regime, but not broken. Her courage is an inspiration to us all. But she is not alone – the international community must not make the mistake of assuming that her release signals the end of the oppression of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.

“The international community must not relent. It’s not just Loujain – there are many other women in prison today because they fought for human rights in Saudi Arabia. They must be freed, unconditionally. Nothing else will do.”

Showing us the glowing orb is no substitute.

3 Responses to “A thousand and one days”