G20 2020: Let’s Not Forget the Detained Women’s Rights Activist Loujain Al Hathloul
“Loujain cannot survive in prison when she doesn’t know what tomorrow is made of. She doesn’t know when the next visit will be, she doesn’t if it’s going to be in a year’s time or if it’s going to be tomorrow. She said: “I will either die, or I’m at least allowed to hear my parents on a regular basis.” Detained women’s rights activits Loujain AlHathloul’s sister Lina AlHathloul tweeted on 29 October 2020.
On 26 October, Loujain AlHathloul began a hunger strike over the conditions of her detention, especially not being allowed to have regular contact with her family. Other prisoners are allowed to regularly receive phone calls.
Loujain’s physical and mental health is deteriorating.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), said in a statement that it was “gravely concerned about Ms Hathloul’s physical and mental health and well-being.”
Her family is being ignored by the Saudi authorities and hopes that the attention of foreign media, international community, human rights activists and the G20 will save Loujain’s life.
The G20 is hosted by Saudi Arabia this year on November 20 and 21, undoubtedly as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s image campaign. MBS, as he is called, would like to be seen as a great reformer: he wants to transform Saudi Arabia into a modern country, where westerners would like to live and go on vacation. Of course, there is no way for Saudi Arabia to appear modern and open when women aren’t allowed to drive and with a strict system of male guardianship. So, the Crown Prince lifted the driving ban in June 2018 and allowed women to travel without permission by a male guardian. He had the applause of the world – but the women who fought for these reforms, ended up in prison.
Who Is Loujain Al-Hathloul?
Loujain is an advocate for the full equality and human rights of women. She was one of the leaders of the women to drive campaign. Loujain had also started a campaign to end male guardianship – “I am my own guardian.” was her credo. Loujain was one of the first women to stand for election in Saudi Arabia in 2015 – the first time women were allowed to both vote and stand in elections in the state.
Loujain was also one of the few independant female Saudi voices to speak about the Human Rights situation in international conferences. On 27 February 2018, Loujain attended a public meeting in Geneva to brief members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on the women’s rights situation Saudi Arabia. Her briefing formed part of the Committee’s review of Saudi Arabia’s implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
In May 2018, Loujain AlHathloul was arrested with 10 other activists in a sweep targeting outspoken women who had campaigned for human rights. The arrests included veteran campaigners like Aziza al-Yousef and bloggers Eman al-Nafjan and Amaol al Harbi, journalists Maha al-Rafidi, Aida al-Ghamdi and Israa al-Ghomgham.
Officials failed to show a warrant or other order issued by a lawful authority that would authorize Loujain’s arrest. The arresting officers also neglected to provide verbal confirmation of any laws that she might have allegedly violated that would justify her detention. She has remained in prison ever since because MBS knows that Loujain and the other women’s rights activists wants more than the right to drive.
Just before her arrest, she was working with other activists to open a safe shelter for victims of domestic violence. In Saudi Arabia, women who are victims of domestic violence have no safe shelter to go to.
How did Loujain become the determined fighter for women’s rights?
Loujain was born on 31 July 1989 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. When Loujain was five years old, the family moved to France for 5 years after which they returned to Saudi Arabia. Loujain’s family describe her as open, spontaneous and generous. She pursued her Bachelors in French Literature at the University of British Columbia in 2013. In Candada, she began her activism, through social media. After that, Loujain started her MA in social research at Sorbonne University in Abu-Dhabi. She was due to graduate from Sorbonne University the year she got arrested.
In 2014, she filmed herself driving from UAE and tried to cross the border to Saudi Arabia. At the border, she was stopped. Hours later, she was arrested and put in prison for 73 days.
In May 2018, Loujain’s final arrest came. She was imprisoned and interrogated under torture.. She was electrocuted, beaten, sexually assaulted (by kissing and touching her body), and threatened with rape and death. Loujain has been tortured by flogging, waterboarding, solitary confinement over two months and other inhumane treatment. As a result of solitary confinement, her muscles grew weak, and she became virtually incapable of holding anything in her hands. She would shake uncontrollably and had difficulty standing.
The officials who tortured Alhathloul include Saud al-Qahtani, the former advisor to Crown Prince MBS. On more than one occasion, he personally oversaw the torture and sexual harrasment. During one session, Mr. al-Qahtani told her: “I’ll kill you, cut you into pieces, throw you in the sewer system. But before that, I’ll rape you.”
In August 2019, Loujain was offered to be released from prison if she signs a statement drafted by the Saudi authorities in which she would deny all the torture she has endured. She bravely refused.
Since then, Loujain has won numerous prizes, including a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize 2020. Human rights organisations are campaigning relentlessly for her unconditional release.
On 26 October, Loujain began a hunger strike over the conditions of her detention, especially not being allowed to have regular contact with her family. Other prisoners are allowed to regularly receive phone calls.
Lina al-Hathloul, Loujain’s younger sister, has said: “My sister is an award-winning women’s rights activist, she has been nominated for the Nobel Prize and she is celebrated all around the world. Except at home in Saudi Arabia, where she languishes in a maximum-security prison. In prison, my sister has been tortured and degraded, and sexually abused. As long as women inside of Saudi Arabia cannot safely speak, it is the duty of the international community to raise its voice on their behalf.”
International Pressure on Saudi Arabia Ahead of of G20
Grant Liberty, a human rights charity, conducted a report on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, which came out just before the G20. It says people have faced death for crimes carried out when they were as young as nine. 309 political prisoners have suffered human rights abuses since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince of the kingdom in 2017. The study says 27 political prisoners were women’s rights activists and six of them have been sexually assaulted.
On 15 September 2020, around 30 countries criticized Saudi Arabia before the UN Human Rights Council, accusing it of detaining women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, along with 4 other women who are in detention, who campaigned for women to drive.
On 8 October 2020, the European Parliament called for Saudi Arabia to release all the human rights activists, particularly the campaigners for the Women to drive the movement, including Loujain al-Hathloul.
During the last days, ahead of the G20, the Human Rights Committee of the German government has condemned the drastic violations of fundamental human rights in Saudi Arabia and calls upon Saudi authorities “to release all political prisoners immediately and to stop all persecution against human rights defenders.”
German MPs have issued a joint statement to place human rights concerns at the centre of all G20 discussions in order to take a clear stance against the continuing human rights violations. There is hope that more countries follow the German government’s example and put pressure on Saudi authorities.
Portraits of the Saudi female activists are projected on the facade of the Louvre in Paris where Macron hosted a dinner for the Saudi Crown Prince two years ago. A sign the French president can hardly ignore.
“If members of the G-20, which purports to promote gender equality and advance the social and economic empowerment of women, truly want to mainstream issues of gender, voices such as that of my sister Loujain must be included. And for that, they must be released from their arbitrary detention in Saudi prisons. Unless Loujain and other female activists are freed and allowed to exercise their equal, universal rights of speech and association, this conference stands as nothing more than another symbol of Saudi and international hypocrisy on the issue of women’s equality.” – Lina al-Hathloul on Washington Post
A UN women’s rights committee has expressed alarm at the worsening health of Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who is on hunger strike in prison. One can only hope that the G20 is a chance for freedom for the imprisoned women’s rights activists.
Please support Loujain’s immediate and unconditional release by signing the petition:
More info: https://www.loujainalhathloul.org
I just signed the petition. Thank you for sharing her story. I’ve read about Loujain on Twitter, but her story isn’t well known here in the US. Sadly, our country has not done much to raise human rights concerns with Saudi Arabia and her plight has not been considered by many here. Hopefully as more and more people learn her story the calls will grow stronger and something will be done.
Thank you! We hope to reach more people by telling Loujain’s story!