RYADH: A Saudi court on Monday sentenced prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison, her family and local media said, in a trial that has drawn international condemnation as Riyadh faces renewed US scrutiny.
Hathloul, 31, has been held since 2018 following her arrest along with at least a dozen other women’s rights activists.
The verdict poses an early challenge to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s relationship with US President-elect Joe Biden, who has criticised Riyadh’s human rights record.
Hathloul was charged with seeking to change the Saudi political system and harming national security, Sabq and al-Shark al-Awsat newspapers said. The court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence — or most of the time already served since her arrest on May 15, 2018 — with a conditional release to follow, the newspapers and Hathloul’s sister said.
She could therefore be released around end of February 2021, with a return to prison possible if she commits any crime, the newspapers added. Hathloul was also given a five-year travel ban, her sister Lina tweeted, adding that both the public prosecutor and Hathloul could appeal the judge’s verdict.
United Nations human rights experts have called the charges “spurious”, and along with leading rights groups and lawmakers in the United States and Europe have called for her release.