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Saturday, September 18, 2021

UBC grad and Saudi women’s rights activist released from prison

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DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES —
One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent political activists was released from prison Wednesday, her family tweeted, after serving nearly three years on charges that have sparked an international uproar over the kingdom’s human rights record.

Loujain al-Hathloul, who pushed to end a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia and had studied at the University of British Columbia, was sentenced to almost six years in prison last December under a broad counterterrorism law. She was accused of crimes that rights groups describe as politically motivated, including agitating for change and pursuing a foreign agenda.

Her sister Lina al-Hathloul posted a screenshot from FaceTime of a smiling Loujain on Twitter, declaring that she was finally home.

Her early release was widely expected as the judge suspended part of her sentence and gave her credit for time already served. The move comes as Saudi Arabia faces new scrutiny from the United States, where President Joe Biden has vowed to reassess the U.S.-Saudi partnership and stand up for human rights and democratic principles.

Although released, Al-Hathloul will remain under strict conditions, her family has previously said, including a five-year travel ban and three years of probation.

The 31-year-old Saudi activist long has been outspoken about human rights in Saudi Arabia, even from behind bars. She launched hunger strikes to protest her imprisonment and joined other female activists in telling Saudi judges that she was tortured and sexually assaulted by masked men during interrogations. The women say they were caned, electrocuted and waterboarded. Some say they were forcibly groped and threatened with rape.

Al-Hathloul rejected an offer to rescind her allegations of torture in exchange for early release, according to her family. An appeals court on Tuesday had rejected her claims of torture, her family said.

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