Top Saudi women’s rights activist released from prison, family says

One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists was released from prison after some 1,000 days in detention and amid persistent international pressure for her to be released, her family tweeted Wednesday.

“The best day of my life, Loujain is at my parent’s home,” tweeted Alia al-Hathloul, Loujain’s elder sister.

“Loujain is at home,” tweeted another sister, Lina.

Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested in May 2018 along with several other female activists, after making a name for herself as one of the few women to openly call for women’s right to drive in the deeply conservative kingdom. She also called for an end to Saudi Arabia’s restrictive male guardianship system that had long limited women’s freedom of movement.

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul in August 2019. Facebook / AFP – Getty Images file

Her release comes weeks after a Saudi judge sentenced Al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison on December 28, a spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Media told NBC News at the time. Two years and 10 months of her sentence was suspended and the sentence was backdated to May 2018, the spokesperson added.

Al-Hathloul was convicted of agitating for change in Saudi Arabia while serving a foreign agenda, using the internet to harm public order and cooperating with individuals and institutions that were involved in crimes under anti-terror laws, according to the state-linked Saudi news site Sabq. NBC News was unable to independently verify the reporting.

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Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said the charges leveled against Al-Hathloul were entirely related to her human rights work and have persistently called for her unconditional release.

Al-Hathloul’s older sister, Alia, told NBC News in December that Al-Hathloul was appealing the verdict as well as another ruling that said she was not subjected to torture while in detention.

But Alia said Wednesday that a Saudi court of appeals had decided that the burden of proof was on Al-Hathloul to show that she had been tortured.

Al-Hathloul’s family say she has been subjected to electric shocks and has been sexually harassed. And rights groups have said that other detained women’s rights activists have also been subjected to torture and sexual harassment. Saudi Arabia has denied the allegations.

Another sister, Lina, tweeted in December that Al-Hathloul is subject to a five-year travel ban.

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