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Who is Loujain al-Hathloul? UBC grad, women’s rights activist jailed in Saudi Arabia

Click to play video: 'Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison' Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison
WATCH: Loujain al-Hathloul, a women's rights activist in Saudi Arabia, has been sentenced to six years in prison under the country's broadly-worded counterterrorism law. Ross Lord reports on the campaign for her freedom, al-Hathloul's connection to Canada, and the push for Ottawa to intervene – Dec 28, 2020

Prominent Saudi women’s rights activist and University of British Columbia (UBC) graduate Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, was convicted by a Saudi court on Monday on charges which include seeking to change the Saudi political system and harming national security.

Click to play video: 'UBC grad sentenced to 6 years in Saudi prison for defying ban on women driving' UBC grad sentenced to 6 years in Saudi prison for defying ban on women driving
UBC grad sentenced to 6 years in Saudi prison for defying ban on women driving – Dec 28, 2020

Here are some details about al-Hathloul, who has been detained since 2018.

Read more: UBC grad sentenced to 6 years in Saudi prison for defying ban on women driving

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ACTIVISM

Hathloul rose to prominence in 2013 when she began publicly campaigning for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia.

She was arrested for the first time in 2014 while attempting to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates — where she had a valid driver’s license — to Saudi Arabia. She spent 73 days in a women’s detention facility, an experience she later said helped shape her campaigning against the kingdom’s male guardianship system.

In 2016, a year after she became one of the first women to stand for municipal election in Saudi Arabia, she was among 14,000 signatories on a petition to King Salman calling for an end to the guardianship system.

In 2018, she attended a public meeting in Geneva to brief the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

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

DETENTION AND TRIAL

In March 2018 Hathloul was arrested in the UAE where she was studying and forcibly flown to Riyadh where she was held under house arrest before being moved to prison in May, rights groups say. She was among at least a dozen other women’s rights activists arrested, and Saudi media tarred them as traitors.

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Rights groups say at least three of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault. Saudi authorities have denied torture allegations.

Her trial began in March 2019 in Riyadh’s criminal court after ten months in detention.

In August 2019, Hathloul’s family said she had rejected a proposal to secure her release from prison in exchange for a video statement denying reports she was tortured in custody.

Read more: UBC graduate facing up to 20 years in Saudi prison for women’s rights advocacy, supporters say

Hathloul went on hunger strike in October — her second in 2020 — to protest against the conditions of her detention. Her family said she was forced to abandon the hunger strike after two weeks because her jailers were waking her every two hours.

In November 2020, her case was transferred from regular criminal court to a special terrorism court.

In December 2020, the Saudi public prosecutor was cleared of allegations of abuse against Hathloul by the criminal court.

On December 28, 2020, she was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison, with two years and 10 months suspended. Charges against her include seeking to change the Saudi political system and harming national security.

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