Saudi women’s rights champion Loujain AlHathloul released from prison

February 24, 2021

A Finalist to the Martin Ennals Award, Loujain AlHathloul is a leading women’s rights defender and world-famous Saudi activist. For campaigning for the #Women2drive movement and the end of the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia, she was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison on December 28, 2020, on charges related to national security. She was released on February 10, 2021 after 1001 days in prison. However, subject to a three-year probation period and a five-year travel ban, Loujain is not free yet. Her family keeps fighting for her unconditional release and that of other Saudi activists.


A champion of the women’s rights movement

For almost a decade, Loujain AlHathloul fiercely stood up for the right of Saudi women thus contributing to enormous social change in her country. She advocated for women to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as men, and challenged power, privilege, prejudice and patriarchy. Not only was she a leading figure of the Women to Drive movement but she also tried to open a shelter for women who were victims of domestic violence. She is one of the only independent Saudi voices in the world, says her sister Lina.  

Loujain traveled the world to raise awareness of the women’s rights situation in Saudi Arabia, up to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. This UN briefing may have sparked her arrest and imprisonment, according to Martin Ennals Jury Member Phil Lynch from ISHR.That’s a paradigm example of reprisal and from withholding activists from speaking truth to power”, he added.  

Cruel detention and conditional release

Loujain was arrested in early 2018. While in prison, she had to endure torture, sexual harassment, as well as being held in solitary confinement and denied access to her family. “Her imprisonment shows the cruelty of the Saudi authorities towards brave women who dare to be vocal about their dreams of a better Saudi Arabia”, says Jury Member Guadalupe Marengo from Amnesty International.  

On February 10, 2021, Loujain was finally released, but on probation only. Her family keeps fighting for Loujain’s release to be unconditional: “A five-year travel ban, three years of probation during which time she can be re-imprisoned for any perceived criminal activity and a life-long labeling of Loujain as a terrorist: this is not freedom!”, said #FreeLoujain campaign manager Uma Mishra. 

Defeated attempts to silence and break her

The Saudi regime is doing everything possible to silence human rights defenders – among them Loujain who has become a symbol of the Saudi human rights movement. Although she was released, she remains deprived of her freedom of expression and many other defenders are still behind bars. However, the huge international echo given to the #FreeLoujain campaign only proves that attempts to silence her – and the many other human rights activists have failed. Several years of prison and ill-treatments didn’t break her either:When I first spoke to Loujain after her release, she was the same as she was a few years ago. The first thing she did was to ask about my well-being. Her strength and resilience amaze me”, commented her sister Alia 

The AlHathloul family will keep campaigning for Loujain’s unconditional freedom, namely for her to regain her full freedom of movement and expression. 

Learn more about Loujain AlHathloul