Loujain al-Hathloul sentenced to five years and eight months, two years after arrest.
If you’re one of the millions of women around the world who don’t have to think twice about hopping into your Hyundai Tucson for a quick trip to the store, news of Loujain al-Hathloul’s sentencing for petitioning for that right in her home country should inspire gratitude for the freedoms associated with women’s rights in the US. And, while there certainly are a variety of weird and arbitrary automobile laws around the world, Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving was as old as the kingdom itself, up until 2018. Despite major changes to the rigid and conservative laws following al-Hathloul’s arrest, the activist has now been handed a prison sentence.
Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested in May 2018, alongside other activists, for what the Saudi government deemed to be terrorist activities. The activist's work stretches back to 2013 where al-Hathloul was seen in an online video illegally driving herself home from the airport. Her controversial arrest undoubtedly made an impact, however, and the archaic ban was lifted in June 2018 – but she has remained in custody ever since.
The charges against her include inciting to change the basic law of governance and serving an external agenda against the kingdom with the aim of harming public order. As a final cherry on the cake, the court also decided that she had conspired with foreign agents by engaging with foreign journalists and human rights organizations.
In an era where cars can almost drive themselves, it seems almost ludicrous that al-Hathloul was still handed a five-year and eight-month prison sentence for her actions in support of women being able to drive. The specialized criminal court that handed down the sentence this past week did suspend the sentence for a period of two years and ten months, and, with al-Hathloul already having served time since 2018, she could be released in as little as a few months. The French foreign ministry has publicly called for her release, however, and it is expected that various other ministries will follow suit.