Riyadh frees right-to-drive activist Loujain al-Hathloul

The news relaunched by her sister with a tweet: “She is home!”. The woman spent over three years in prison, where she allegedly suffered abuse. The Saudi authorities deny all violence. Satisfaction expressed by US President Biden, the UN secretary general and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Saudi authorities have released the female leader and activist Loujain al-Hathloul, a 31-year-old woman a key figure in the battle for women's right to drive in the Wahhabi kingdom.

The young woman was arrested a few weeks before the cancellation of the ban, which took place in June 2018. Sentenced to five years and eight months, in the past she went on hunger strike against prison conditions, denouncing restrictions and abuses to which she was subjected and receiving the solidarity of a UN committee that had appealed to King Salman.

In a message released late yesterday afternoon, her sister Lina made the news official on Twitter: "Loujain-she wrote - is at home !!!!!!!". Hathloul, who was detained with several other human rights activists, was convicted of thought crimes as an attempt to overthrow the political system and undermine national unity. The woman is released after spending nearly three years behind bars, but for the next five she will not be able to travel by court order.

Alia, another sister of Hathloul, posted a photo of the smiling activist in the family garden, thin and with grey streaks in her hair.

Hathloul has fought for years against the ban on women driving and the end of the system that provides for the presence of a male "guardian", be it the father, brother or husband. In her cell, she allegedly suffered abuse including electroshock, waterboarding, whipping and sexual attacks. Riyadh authorities - who have so far refused to comment on the release - have always denied the accusations and, questioned on the matter, the court rejected the application due to lack of evidence.

Words of satisfaction come from the White House, “Releasing her was the right thing to do,” Biden said of Hathloul.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed her release, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“But I think it is important that others who are in the same condition as her, who have been jailed for the same reasons as her, also be released and that charges be dropped against them,” he told reporters.


Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, is pleased with the release but at the same time remembers the "cruelty" of the Saudi leadership which "violated her basic rights".

Saudi Arabia is governed by an absolute Sunni monarchy, based on a Wahhabi fundamentalist view of Islam.

Over the past two years, the Crown Prince’s social reforms included granting women the right to drive cars and to attend sporting events in designated areas of stadiums.

However, the authorities have also cracked down on senior officials, business people, activists and critical voices, most notably in the Jamal Khashoggi affair, raising questions about the real extent of change.