(Washington, D.C.) – The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) issued the following statement upon news that Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has been convicted and sentenced to five years and eight months in prison:

The Project on Middle East Democracy condemns in the strongest possible terms the outrageous conviction of Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul and calls on the United States government to demand that Saudi Arabia immediately exonerate her and the other women’s rights defenders facing similar trumped up charges. After nearly three years of monstrous imprisonment—which has included torture, sexual assault, and solitary confinement—Saudi authorities have not presented any evidence to justify her detention, let alone the conviction handed down today.  

Al-Hathloul has been a steadfast advocate, peacefully urging the kingdom to improve women’s rights. When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that the driving ban on women would be lifted, it seemed like a small but important victory, a testament to the work of al-Hathloul and other Saudi women’s rights activists. Instead, the crown prince arrested her—alongside other prominent women’s rights defenders—one month before the driving ban was lifted, launched a public smear campaign labeling her a “traitor,” and subjected her to torture and the denial of basic rights since her imprisonment.

This case is emblematic of the Saudi government’s mockery of justice and the rule of law. During a sham process lacking any semblance of transparency, Saudi prosecutors brought forth ridiculous charges such as communicating with European diplomats and foreign journalists, applying for a job at the United Nations, and attending conferences and seminars. Nearly two years after her trial began at the Criminal Court in Riyadh, without any substantive changes to the charges brought against her, a judge suddenly moved the case to the Specialized Criminal Court (the “terrorism” court), where critics of the regime are regularly subjected to unfair trials and harsh sentences. Since then, the authorities have misled her defense and rushed forward to today’s verdict. 

The kingdom has hidden behind the veneer of judicial independence, but it is clear that this process has been driven by the crown prince and lacks any legitimate due process. Al-Hathloul and her fellow women’s rights activists must be immediately released, unconditionally absolved of any wrongdoing, and allowed to travel without restrictions.

Photo Credit: Emna Mizouni on Wikimedia Commons