The release of Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi women’s rights activist, from prison
Women rights are often restricted in Saudi Arabia. Numerous laws violate their basic rights. One recent example is the driving ban, which was lifted in June 2018. Women in the country are also restrained from issuing passports as well as prevented from the freedom to travel.
Over the years, several women’s activists in Saudi Arabia have protested against misogyny, One of them being 31 year old Loujain al-Hathloul. Her activism started when she was studying in Canada. She started raising awareness and sharing information online. She often goes on social media to emphasise and criticise Saudi Arabia's laws against women.
Loujain is one of the many prominent figures for defending women's rights in Saudi Arabia. During her years of activism, she fought for the right to drive, removing male guardianship, creating a women's shelter, and other women's civil rights.
In 2014, Loujain took to social media and filmed herself behind a steering wheel from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia, while the ban to forbid women from driving was still in effect. She was detained for 73 days for defying the law. In 2016, Loujain raised a petition towards King Salman with 14,000 signatures to abolish the male guardianship practice.
In May 2018, she was detained along with 11 other women’s activists by Saudi officials. Over the course of three months, she was electrocuted, sexually harassed, and even suffered death threats. However, the authorities denied those claims. She was also denied any contact with her family or lawyers. Later, she was charged with undermining the kingdom by communicating with foreign diplomats and international organisations like Amnesty International.
Just like that, she became a symbol of oppression in Saudi Arabia. Loujain's charges were believed to be politically-driven and led to international pressure against the country. She was sentenced to jail for 5 years and 8 months. During her time in prison, her activism was still recognised. She had received several awards, such as the 2019 PEN America award. Finally, on the 10th of February 2021, Loujain was freed after 1,001 days in prison.
Many believe that the timing for the release of Loujain al-Hathloul was not coincidental since it came just weeks after Biden was sworn into office. Analysts view this act as a gesture to appease Joe Biden's demand to release political prisoners and his agenda in prioritising human rights. Biden's political adviser, Jake Sullivan, also claimed through Twitter he was pleased by the release of the Saudi women’s activist.
Though Loujain has been freed, justice is still demanded by her family. A Twitter statement from Lina al-Hathloul says: "Loujain is at home, but she is not free." With the travel ban and existing charges, Loujain's release does not signify justice nor freedom. Loujain's release also does not make up for the suffering she has endured, especially since she wasn't supposed to be placed behind bars due to practicing peaceful activism. The al-Hathloul family demands Loujain to be completely and unconditionally free.