By GUY DAVIES, ABC News
(LONDON) — The prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released from prison on Wednesday, according to her family, but human rights organizations have warned she is still banned from leaving the Kingdom and faces a suspended sentence.
Al-Hathloul, 31, was arrested in May 2018, along with 11 other women’s rights campaigners. She had been vocal for women’s rights and had repeatedly called for an end to Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system.
A little over a month later, women in the Kingdom were allowed to drive for the first time after three decades of campaigning, but al-Hathloul’s arrest highlighted the extent to which reforms in the Kingdom were limited with Saudi authorities still facing intense criticism of their human rights record.
“Loujain is at home,” her sister, Lina al-Hathloul, tweeted on Wednesday.
“She was a powerful advocate for women’s rights and releasing her was the right thing to do,” President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.
On Dec. 28, 2020, more than two years after her arrest, al-Hathloul was sentenced to over five years in jail in Specialized Criminal Court for “spying with foreign parties” and “conspiring against the Kingdom,” but part of the sentence was backdated to the time of her arrest.
“We welcome the news that Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul has been released from prison and has reunited with her family,” Ned Price, the spokesperson for the State Department, said in a statement. “We encourage Saudi Arabia to continue legal and policy reforms that respect the rights of women, girls, and all people.”
Human rights organizations have warned, however, that while al-Hathloul is out of prison, she is not yet free.
The activist remains banned from talking to the media, she may not leave the Kingdom and Saudi authorities retain the right to re-arrest her at any time, campaigners for her release said.
“Loujain al-Hathloul’s wrongful imprisonment has ended, but she’s still not free,” Adam Coogle, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “With al-Hathloul banned from travel and threatened with more prison time if she does not stay silent, her ordeal remains a flagrant miscarriage of justice.”
Taha al-Hajj, a lawyer from European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, told ABC News that al-Hathloul is still “under sentence.”
“In addition, Loujain is demanding an investigation and accountability for her who tortured, insulted, and defamed her and arbitrarily arrested her, but the government ignores her request,” he said. “Loujain’s case has not ended yet.”
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