By Abba Gwale
A Saudi Arabian court has on Monday sentenced prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison for her movement to change the country’s political system and threatening national security.
The 31-year old has been in prison since 2018 following her arrest along with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists, according to the Reuters.
The court suspended her two years and 10 months sentence – or most of the time already served since her arrest on May 15, 2018 – with a conditional release to follow, the newspapers and Hathloul’s sister said.
Reports in Saudi said Harthloul could therefore be released around end of February 2021, with a return to prison possible if she commits any crime, and she was also given a five-year travel ban. But both the public prosecutor and Hathloul’s could appeal the court’s verdict.
Several United Nations human rights experts have called the charges against her as “spurious”, and human rights groups and lawmakers in the United States and Europe have called for her unconditional release.
Her family said Hathloul was subjected to abuse, including electric shocks, waterboarding, flogging and sexual assault- accusations which Saudi authorities denied.
Last week, a Saudi criminal court cleared the prosecution of torturing Hathloul while in detention, saying there was no evidence to support the allegations.
Her sentencing came nearly three weeks after a Riyadh court jailed U.S.-Saudi physician Walid al-Fitaihi for six years, despite U.S. pressure to release him, in a case rights groups have called politically motivated.
Foreign diplomats said the two trials aimed to send a message at home and abroad that Saudi Arabia would not yield to pressure on human rights issues.
A diplomat said Saudi authorities could also use the sentences as leverage in future negotiations with the Biden administration.