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The family of Saudi Arabia’s ‘most obvious’ political prisoner calls on G20 to hold the kingdom accountable

G20 leaders meet this weekend at a virtual summit hosted by Riyadh, who currently heads the club for rich countries. The event has revived the discussion of the kingdom’s human rights abuses on an uptick led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has rolled out a rapid series of reforms, while at the same time sharply expelling disagreement in the kingdom.

“It is the duty of the international community to ask (Loujain). To tell Saudi Arabia that they will not believe in any of the reforms when those who have been their advocates are behind bars,” Loujain al-Hathloul’s sister, Lina, told al-Hathloul to CNN. “It is the duty of the international community to call for the release of Loujain.”


Amnesty International urged world leaders not to “buy spin: Saudi Arabia’s real producers of change are in jail.” Human Rights Watch said the summit was “a sign of international prestige for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s government, but it helps the Saudi government distort its image as a pervasive human rights violation.”
Hathloul, 31, was jailed in May 2018 during an arrest sweep aimed at prominent opponents of the kingdom’s previous law that prevented women from driving. The creation took place only a few weeks before the ban was lifted and doubted the prince’s reform agenda.

In an interview with CNN’s Nic Robertson on Friday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir said Hathloul’s case was “up to the courts. She is on trial in national security cases.”

“The idea that she and her friends were detained because they suggested women driving is awful,” Jubeir said. “(The plan to lift the ban on) female driving was adopted by His Majesty (King Salman) six months before they were detained. And if any woman in Saudi Arabia who advocates for women to drive should be jailed, half of Women in Saudi Arabia would be in prison. “

In a six-page indictment of Hathloul’s case, seen by CNN, a section titled “Committed Crimes” includes activism against the kingdom’s restrictive male guardianship as well as contact with foreign journalists and diplomats.

The allegations are based on a number of alleged confessions, according to the documents, which state that Hathloul confessed to having applied for a job at the UN along with admitting to being in contact with the human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

‘Psychologically devastated’ in prison

In much of his prison, Hathloul has detailed his difficulties – including allegations of torture and sexual abuse – to his parents during their prison visits. These allegations were later made public by three of her siblings living outside the kingdom and were confirmed by court testimony about other female activists.

Saudi authorities have repeatedly denied allegations of torture and sexual abuse in their prisons.

For most of 2020, Hathloul has been denied regular calls and visits to her family, her siblings said, adding that officials cited the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for suspending communication.

When their parents saw Hathloul in August, after they had last spoken to her on the phone in April, they had found her looking “extremely thin and extremely weak”, says Lina.

Still, she seemed stubborn and attentive. Loujain told her family that she had received the visit because she had been on hunger strike and the prison authorities had given in to her demands. She had protested the suspension of the communication after she was told that at least one other prisoner still had regular contact with her family, according to Lina.

But after another visit on Sept. 9, Loujain was again denied contact with her family until a meeting with her parents on Oct. 26, when she informed them she would resume a hunger strike, Lina said.

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul has been in Saudi jail since May 2018, accused of women's rights activism and contact with journalists.

“Loujain was okay physically, but psychologically she was devastated,” Lina said. “My parents told us that they had never seen Loujain as weak and as hopeless as she was on that visit.

“She told them she would start a hunger strike that day … My parents tried everything to cheer her up, but Loujain was just sure what she wanted … she will no longer survive in this prison where she is not even allowed to have regular calls. ”

A UN committee of independent experts earlier this month expressed concern over reports of Hathloul’s deteriorating health and criticized Saudi Arabia’s apparent refusal to allow contact with its family.

“The Committee is concerned about the recent information about the circumstances of Mrs Al-Hathloul’s prolonged detention, which has prompted her to start a hunger strike,” reads a statement from the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

“Unlike other detainees and in violation of Rules 26 and 42 of the UN Rules on the Treatment of Female Prisoners and Non-Detentional Measures for Female Offenders … Mrs Al-Hathloul must not have regular contact with her family or carry out activities in according to reports received, ”it said.

Hathloul’s family says they have not received news of her since October 26.

Saudi authorities have not responded to CNN’s request for comment on the allegations made by Hathloul’s relatives.

Lina al-Hathloul and her sister Loujain pictured in an undated photo on a train from Brussels.

Hathloul is believed to be the loudest political prisoner currently inside Saudi prisons, having made the situation of the kingdom’s imprisoned women’s rights activists known to the outside world and sparked international scandal. Most activists detained in the wave of arrests targeting Hathloul were released in early 2019 following enormous international pressure.

The 31-year-old activist was one of a handful of female activists who were denied release. She was put in solitary confinement in mid-April 2019 and will remain there to date, her sister said. In January 2020, Hathloul was allowed to leave her solitary cell, but she could not adapt to the sound of other people after being deprived of interaction for nearly seven months, Lina said. According to her family, she asked to stay in her cell with one hour of social activities a day.

In August 2019, Saudi authorities offered to release Hathloul on condition that she lift her accusations of torture, her family said. According to her siblings, she declined the offer.

“She does not want to go out and get the people who tortured her and imprisoned her to go unpunished and still be able to do this to other women after her,” Loujain’s sister, Lina al-Hathloul, told CNN.

“She is the most obvious (Saudi prisoner) behind bars. She does not agree to be released without a full and real justice.”

CNN’s Nic Robertson contributed to this report from Riyadh.

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