Dubai: The sisters of prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul said on Thursday they wanted natural justice for her and the lifting of a travel ban, the day after she was released from prison with a suspended sentence.
Hathloul, 31, campaigned for women’s right to govern and to end Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system. She spent almost three years behind bars in a case that provoked international condemnation and remained banned from leaving Saudi Arabia for five years.
Legal groups and her family say Hathloul was jailed for electric shocks, waterboarding, beatings, and sexual assault – allegations denied by Saudi Arabia.
“What we want now is true justice,” Lina al-Hathloul told an online news conference. “That Loujain is completely, unconditionally free.”
She said her sister would fight the travel ban and that their parents could not leave the country either.
Another sister, Alia, said that Hathloul was now with their parents, who were very happy to have her back. The first thing Hathloul did after talking to her siblings went to the ice cream supermarket.
Lina tweeted a photo of Hathloul on Wednesday, smiling but thinner than before, with a recent gray streak in her hair.
The sisters said she lost weight due to the hunger strikes she offered to protest against her prison conditions.
“She is firm,” said Alia, who also lives in Brussels. “I’m so proud of her ability to hold great hope, to be very positive, and to say ‘OK, I’ve been through horrible things – but life goes on.”
Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested in March 2018 in the United Arab Emirates, where she was studying, and flew back to Saudi Arabia against her will.
She was one of at least a dozen women’s rights activists arrested when Saudi Arabia ended a ban on women driving cars, at least two of whom are still in jail, human rights sources said.
MOVEMENTS OF TORTURE
She was sentenced in December last year to five years and eight months in terms of broad-based cybercrime and terrorism laws for activities, including calls for an end to male guardianship and communication with world rights groups, activists, foreign diplomats, and international media. UN rights experts said the charges were untrue.
Hathloul served most of her sentence’s indemnity half, which was suspended for another two years and ten months.
“She is very determined to use all the means that exist within the legal framework in Saudi Arabia … to obtain her rights,” Alia said. “She was tortured, and she can not forget this flamboyant period in her life.”
Loujain told her siblings that she did not initially mention the torture during phone calls from prison because guards kept an “electroshock device” on her ear and threatened to use it if she called her treatment.
An appeals court rejected the torture claims Tuesday, citing a lack of evidence, her family said.
Saudi officials did not publicly comment on Hathloul’s conviction, sentencing, or release, and the government’s media office on Thursday did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Asked if Loujain would continue her activism, her sisters said her release was conditional, but that they could not elaborate.
As her charge sheet, which the family released last year, referred to her social media posts, she dared to violate the terms of her release if she posted online again, Lina said.
The sisters were not sure if they themselves were under a travel ban and said they would not yet dare to return to Saudi Arabia.
Inputs from Reuters