Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, 28, faces 20 years in prison after Saudi Arabian authorities revealed on Wednesday that she allegedly confessed to conspiring with the kingdom’s “enemies.”
According to the Daily Mail, police stopped al-Hathloul while driving near her university in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in March and placed her on an airplane back to Saudi Arabia, where she remains banned from leaving the kingdom and using social media. She has approximately 307,000 Twitter followers.
Two months later, in May, and just one month before the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially lifted its ban on women drivers, al-Hathloul was arrested along with eight other women as part of a brutal crackdown on women defying authorities.
Al-Hathloul rose to some prominence in the West after posing with the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle for a Vanity Fair photoshoot in 2016.
The Toronto Star reported:
Al-Hathloul has been an outspoken women’s rights advocate for years, and is known for posting videos online of herself driving, in protest of Saudi Arabia’s ban on driving for women. While the government has loosened their restrictions on women by overturning their driving ban, Hansen said the arrests are a message that “activism will not be tolerated.”
In June, Amnesty International revealed that authorities in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, claimed al-Hathloul was among the prisoners who confessed communicating with unspecified enemies of Saudi Arabia and “providing financial and moral support to hostile elements abroad.” They were charged for committing “serious” crimes, namely, “cooperating with entities hostile to the kingdom,” “recruiting persons in a sensitive government agency to obtain confidential information to harm the interests of the kingdom,” and “providing financial and moral support to hostile elements abroad.”
According to the Daily Mail, the other individuals being held for treason include Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Ibrahim al-Modeimegh, Mohammad al-Rabea, and Mohammed al-Bajadi.
For their crime of “treason,” they could face up to 20 years in prison or the death penalty.
“The Saudi authorities don’t want any change to come from below,” Kareem Chehayeb, Saudi Arabia researcher for Amnesty International, said, according to the Daily Mail. “They want to stifle any form of dissent or human rights activism. It appears that the only reforms that are acceptable are those that are coming from above, which is absolutely outrageous.”