Women's rights activist Loujain Alhathloul released after 1,001 days in Saudi prison

·3 min read

Saudi activist Loujain Alhathloul has been released from detention in Saudi Arabia, where she had been held since May 2018.

Her family confirmed her release on Wednesday.

Alhathloul, 31, is a graduate of the University of British Columbia and an internationally recognized activist. In December she was sentenced to six years in prison in Saudi Arabia under a vague and broadly worded law aimed at combating terrorism. The judge in the case suspended part of her sentence and gave her credit for time already served.

"The best day of my life, Loujain is at my parent's home," tweeted her sister, Alia Alhathloul.

"Loujain is out. Loujain is free!" wrote her brother, Walid Alhathloul, who lives in Toronto.

Alhathloul was first detained in May 2018 along with nine prominent human rights activists in Saudi Arabia. In December she was found guilty on multiple charges, including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda and using the internet to harm public order.

Amnesty International spokesperson Jacqueline Hansen said Alhathloul remains subject to a five-year travel ban and three-year probation during which she cannot continue her activism.

"We want to make sure that it's clear that she has been released from prison but she is not free. Loujain is still waiting for the result of her appeal and she still a convicted terrorist in Saudi Arabia solely for her peaceful activism," said Hansen.

"We remain concerned. The kingdom has not sent any signal that it is going to welcome activism in support of women's rights in the future."

Alhathloul's imprisonment for the past two and a half years drew international criticism from rights groups, the Canadian government and American lawmakers. On Wednesday afternoon, Global Affairs Canada wrote in a tweet that it welcomed Alhathloul's release.

U.S. President Joe Biden addressed her case ahead of a press conference, saying "she was a powerful advocate for women's rights, and releasing her was the right thing to do."

Alhathloul was known for calling for the right to drive before it was granted in 2018 and for the removal of male guardianship laws that had long stifled women's freedom of movement and ability to travel abroad.

Since she was imprisoned, she told her family she had been held in solitary confinement and suffered electrocution, flogging and sexual assault. She had also gone on hunger strikes multiple times as the COVID-19 pandemic indefinitely delayed her trial over the summer.

Previously detained in 2014

Alhathloul had been associated with the fight for women's rights in Saudi Arabia long before her detention.

After graduating from UBC in 2014, she was arrested for livestreaming herself breaking Saudi Arabia's female driving ban by driving across the border from the United Arab Emirates. She served 70 days in detention as punishment.

She later ran in Saudi Arabia's first election open to women.

Alhathloul was first accused of attempting to destabilize the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Those charges were later altered to communicating with foreign journalists and attempting to apply for a job at the United Nations.

The Alhathloul family has been banned from travel outside of Saudi Arabia.

Alhathloul graduated from UBC with a degree in French in 2014. In a statement, university president Santa Ono wrote that he was "heartened" by news of her release.

"We remain committed to offering our support for her family and loved ones both in advocating for her release and for equality in Saudi Arabia — the goals she has so bravely pursued," he wrote.