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Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al Hathloul must be freed, sister tells the Star

THE family of prominent Saudi Arabian activist Loujain al-Hathloul has urged the world not to forget her and renewed demands for her release from prison.

Ms al-Hathloul’s sister Lina told the Star that the women’s rights activist, is losing hope ahead of the second anniversary of her detention, which falls next month.

“She’s getting a bit tired, she used to be very hopeful. I mean she was strong and she was the one cheering us [the family] up,” Lina said.

“Maybe she puts this in her brain so that she’s not disappointed anymore because of how things are going in her case.”

Loujain was kidnapped while driving on the highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in April 2018 when her car was surrounded by vehicles.

“They blindfolded her, put her in a plane and flew her to Saudi,” Lina recalls. “She didn’t know why she was detained and they said they were just following orders. When she arrived in Riyadh they put her in prison for a few days and interrogated her.

Loujain was released but had a travel ban imposed so she was unable to leave Saudi Arabia.

 In May 2018 her home was raided and she was taken back to prison, where she has remained ever since, Lina said.

For the first 10 months, Loujain was not made aware of any of the charges against her.

She has allegedly been severely tortured, including electric shocks, beatings on the soles of her feet, and was threatened with rape by a senior Saudi official who oversaw the interrogation and tortured her throughout Ramadan.

Authorities have since portrayed her as a “traitor,” accusing her of being in contact with a British diplomat, foreign journalists and human-rights organisations, along with an EU delegation to Saudi Arabia.

Loujain is accused of “trying to destabilise the kingdom,” but her sister says that her detention is entirely down to her campaigning for women’s rights.

“They said she participated in high-level conferences to talk about human rights in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Much has been made of the supposed reforms initiated under the Saudi crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, including relaxing of strict laws that meant women could only drive with a male chaperone.

In 2018 the Guardian ran a full-page advert which claimed: “He is empowering Saudi Arabian women,” with a photograph of a woman in a car above one of the reactionary prince.

But Lina said: “We are not free and we are not independent. If your male guardian doesn’t agree with you travelling or marrying the man you want, he will call the police and say you disobeyed him…the Saudi woman’s life is still submitted to a man.”

Communication with Loujain is difficult. She is banned from speaking to people outside Saudi Arabia and her parents, who are also her lawyers, cannot visit her in jail because of the Covid-19 outbreak — previously visits were restricted to once a month.

May 15 marks two years snce Loujain has been behind bars. Her trials have been postponed several times without reason.

Protests are planned for the day, with campaigners demanding her immediate and unconditional release.

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