Saudi rights activist sentenced to nearly six years in jail

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A Saudi court handed activist Loujain al-Hathloul a prison term of five years and eight months for terrorism-related crimes. France, however, has demanded a rapid release of the activist.

Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi women’s rights activist detained three years ago by the Saudi government, has been sentenced to five years and eight months in jail. She was charged with seeking to change the Saudi political system and harming national security.

But the court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, and backdated the start of her jail term to May 2018, meaning she only has three months left to serve.

The court also banned the activist from leaving the kingdom for five years.

The suspension of Hathloul’s jail term is also dependent on her not repeating any of the offences over the next three years.

Hathloul rose to prominence in 2013 when she began publicly campaigning for women's right to drive.

She also fought to end the kingdom's male guardianship system.

But the Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied that she was arrested for campaigning for women’s right to drive, a right that was granted in 2018, but instead for mounting a campaign to undermine the royal family.

International condemnation

The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights office described the activist's conviction and sentence after she was "arbitrarily" detained since 2018 as "deeply troubling".

"We understand early release is possible, and strongly encourage it as matter of urgency," it said on Twitter.

France demanded that Hathloul be released “rapidly”.

President-elect Biden's incoming administration has pledged to intensify scrutiny of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's human rights failings.

Biden has said he will take a firmer line with the kingdom, than President Donald Trump, who was a strong supporter of Prince Mohammed.