Detained women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul scheduled to give defense in Saudi court

On February 12, UBC alum and Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was presented before the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. The purpose of this recent hearing was for her charges to be read and for her to submit her defense.

Loujain has been detained in a Saudi prison since May 2018 and allegedly endured torture and sexual harassment. According to Front Line Defenders (FDF), a human rights organization, before this second hearing she had spent 287 days in solitary confinement.

Her charges include “communicating with external hostile powers, providing financial support to external parties, and luring and exploiting minors to work against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

But there is very little information publicly available about this hearing or about the details of her case. In a written statement to The Ubyssey, UBC alum and activist Dalya Al Masri, who hosted a January event on campus about Loujain’s arrest and its relation to freedom of speech, said the media “hasn’t been given any access to report on [Loujain’s] case” and that Loujain’s family are the “only ones” with direct access.

Loujain’s brother, Walid al-Hathloul, expressed his frustration with the hearing in a tweet, saying “nothing new” happened.

The tweet also states that the public prosecutor denied torture against Loujain without any investigation.

In his January 2019 CNN opinion article, Walid alleged that Loujain had been “whipped, beaten, electrocuted and harassed on a frequent basis.” In August 2019, he also spoke to CNN about how Loujain rejected a release deal that would have required her to publicly deny being tortured.

According to FDF, the Saudi prison administration also allegedly asked Loujain to sign an agreement that she would stop communication with organizations like the Human Rights Commission. The FDF noted that she refused to sign the agreement.

On February 27, Loujain’s sister Lina al-Hathloul tweeted that their parents were supposed to visit Loujain in prison, but were told that she refused to see them after three hours of waiting.

But, Al Masri said that on March 1, Loujain was allowed to speak to her parents on the phone and stated she was “okay [...] as one can be in such a harsh prison system.” The Ubyssey reached out to the Saudi Arabian embassy for further details but did not receive comment by press time.

Loujain’s next hearing session is scheduled for March 11, where she will have the chance to give her response, but without access to the evidence being used against her.

Moving forward, Al Masri said that “it’s difficult to say what is next for Loujain,” because her trial “keeps getting delayed.” But for Al Masri and others advocating for Loujain across the world, the fight for her immediate release continues.

“The best thing we can do is to continue having this conversation ... we cannot remain silent while others are jailed for basic speech,” she said.