Prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujan al-Hathloul has been released from prison after 1,001 days of incarceration on what many have called bogus politically motivated charges. The move by the Saudi Arabian government is an overture to the new Biden administration and an attempt to assuage their criticisms of the country’s egregious human rights violations.
Loujan al-Hathloul has been at the forefront of the fight for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. She most notably challenged the ban on women driving and guardianship laws which require women to receive the consent of a male relative on decisions related to issues like education and travel.
Miss al-Hathloul has alleged that she was tortured during her time in jail. According to a report from the Washington Post “she had been transferred to a secret prison and subjected to abuse, including torture, beatings, sexual harassment and electric shocks — some supervised by Saud al-Qahtani, a senior adviser to the crown prince.” Saudi Arabian officials have publicly denied these charges.
Biden had said that he would reassess the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, prompting the Saudi government to take steps to attempt to soften its image on the international stage, one of which is the release of Hathloul. Saudi Arabia enjoyed a warm relationship with the Trump administration, who routinely gave the country a pass on its repeated human and civil rights abuses.
“Khashoggi was in fact murdered and dismembered, and I believe [on] the order of the crown prince,” said Biden during a 2019 debate, referencing the journalist who was allegedly murdered by the Saudi government. He subsequently promised to halt sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia. “We were going to in fact make them pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are. They’re going in and murdering children, and they’re murdering innocent people. And so they have to be held accountable.”
Hathloul will remain on probation for three years following her release, during which time any perceived illegal activity could send her back to jail. She is also under strict measures which prevent her from leaving Saudi Arabia for at least five years.
“We’re excited [about her release], but the fight for justice is not over yet,” said Hathloul’s brother, Walid al-Hathloul to CNN. “We would have to work very hard to secure justice for Loujain, but we’re very delighted for this news.”