The Current

Saudi activist Loujain Alhathloul targeted for her work, brother says

The brother of women's rights activist Loujain Alhathloul, who was sentenced by Saudia Arabia's anti-terrorism court to nearly six years in prison, says she has been targeted and punished for speaking out about human rights abuses in that country.

UBC grad was sentenced to just under 6 years in prison under Saudi Arabia's vaguely worded anti-terror law

Saudi court sentences women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul to 6 years in jail

2 years ago
Duration 2:00
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced prominent women's rights activist Loujain Alhathloul, who spent five years in Canada, to almost six years in jail under a broadly worded law aimed at combating terrorism.

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The brother of a women's rights activist who was sentenced by Saudia Arabia's anti-terrorism court to nearly six years in prison says she has been targeted and punished for speaking out about human rights abuses in that country.

"Basically all the indictments and the charges were mostly about human rights activism and being in touch with journalists, with embassies ... and human rights organizations," Walid Alhathloul said of his sister, Loujain Alhathloul.

"All the evidence that they provided are just tweets that she publicly tweeted," he told The Current's guest host Catherine Cullen.

A Saudi news outlet reported that Loujain Alhathloul, 31, was found guilty on charges of agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda, using the internet to harm public order and co-operating with individuals and entities that have committed crimes under anti-terror laws.

Alhathloul lived in Canada for five years and is a graduate of the University of British Columbia (UBC). Her family, including Walid, a graduate of Toronto's York University, have been advocating for her release since she was arrested along with nine other activists in 2018.

A 2018 Amnesty International report alleged that several activists detained in Saudi Arabia have been subjected to electrocution, flogging and sexual assault.

On Monday, UBC released a statement calling for Canada's minister of foreign affairs to press Saudi Arabia's government for Alhathloul's release.

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada called Alhathloul's conviction and sentencing "deeply troubling."

Walid said "other allies in Europe and the United States" need to join Canadian voices of support as well, "so that Canada does not get singled out when they would ask for human rights across the world."

Feminist foreign policy is important: Amnesty International

Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International, said it is "critical for Canada to be able to have the moral courage" to publicly speak out against this and other cases of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, and around the world.

"Canada is in the process of having a feminist foreign policy, but you can't just be feminist when it's convenient to do so. It's important to be able to do that even when it's difficult — and in cases like this with Saudi Arabia, where there may be other interests at hand," she told Cullen.

Nivyabandi says several regimes have used pandemic control measures as "a pretext" to instead tighten their grip on their populations and "give more power to security agencies, and often with zero oversight."

She cited Uganda, which is experiencing "a huge crackdown on any opposition voices" ahead of a critical general election this month as an example.

"The pandemic has exposed and worsened the human rights violations that we were already facing," she said. "It's just exacerbated them. It's highlighted the deep, deep inequalities that exist, first of all, across the world."

Written by Jonathan Ore with files from The Associated Press and CBC News. Produced by Lindsay Rempel and Samira Mohyeddin.