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Alumnus wants UBC to push for jailed grad’s release from Saudi prison

Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture. Marieke Wijntjes via Reuters

Nearly two years after a UBC graduate was locked up in a Saudi prison for defying the country’s ban on women driving, one of her peers is asking why her alma mater isn’t more involved in seeking her freedom.

Loujain al-Hathloul remains in prison even after women won the right to drive in 2018.

READ MORE: Saudi women activists are being tortured and sexually harassed in prison: reports

She was arrested after driving into the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to protest the ban. Since then, she’s allegedly been violently tortured and sexually harassed while in custody.

Fellow UBC grad Dalya al-Masri says the school encourages its students to be global citizens and it should be advocating for al-Hathloul, one of its prominent alumni.

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Click to play video: 'UBC grad detained in Saudi Arabia' UBC grad detained in Saudi Arabia
UBC grad detained in Saudi Arabia – May 29, 2018

“UBC, now, they have the opportunity to put more pressure,” said al-Masri.

“Maybe as an institution they don’t have as much [influence] as the Canadian government but I think that the Canadian government also needs to put on more pressure and I just think maybe the case would have been different.”

READ MORE: Canada among countries calling on Saudi Arabia to release 10 human rights activists

When news broke in May 2018 of al-Hathloul’s arrest, UBC president Santa Ono wrote to then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland asking the government to work for her release.

UBC told Global News on Wednesday that al-Hathloul’s arrest is inconsistent with the Saudi government’s commitment to create a more open and tolerant society.

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“Loujain Al-Hathloul is the embodiment of UBC’s commitment to free speech, equality, empowerment and education, and global citizenship. Her courageous and selfless work advocating for human rights in Saudi Arabia has come at a significant personal cost,” said spokesperson Kurt Heinrich in an email.

But it said it remains important for the university to be aware of diplomatic tensions between Canada and that country, and it wants to be careful that it’s external relations don’t impact her safety.

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