By Raya Jalabi and Marwa Rashad
DUBAI (Reuters) – A Saudi court on Monday sentenced prominent female rights activist Lujain al-Hathul to five years and eight months in prison, local media reported, in a trial that led to international condemnation facing new US investigations is.
Hathoul, 31, has been named as at least a dozen other women rights activists since her arrest since 2018.
The decision, reported by Saabik and al-Sharq al-Aswat newspapers, is an early challenge for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s relationship with US President-elect Joe Biden, who has criticized Riyadh’s human rights record.
Local media said that Hathall was accused of altering the Saudi political system and damaging national security. The court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence – or most of the time already, her arrest on May 15, 2018.
Newspapers state that if someone commits a crime, Hathlaul can be released in late February 2021.
UN human rights experts have called the allegations “spontaneous”, and leading rights groups and lawmakers in the United States and Europe have called for her release.
The rights group and its family say Hathlaul, who had snatched the right of women to drive and accused them of electric shock, falling overboard, prancing and sexual harassment to end the state’s male guardian system. Saudi authorities have denied the allegations.
Nearly three weeks after a Riyadh court sentenced US-Saudi physician Walid al-Fatehi to six years in prison, despite US pressure to release him, in one case, rights groups are said to be politically motivated.
Foreign diplomats said that both tests aimed to send a message at home and abroad that Saudi Arabia would not pressurize human rights issues.
A diplomat said that Riyadh could also use the sentences as leverage in negotiations with the Biden administration in the future.
Biden has said he will take a stronger line with the state, an oil titan and a bigger buyer of American arms than President Donald Trump, who was an ardent supporter of Prince Mohammed.
Hathal gained prominence in 2013 when she publicly launched a campaign for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi officials have said that the arrest of women activists was made on suspicion of harming Saudi interests and supporting hostile elements abroad. Some of the female detainees have been released while their trial continues.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), activist Nasimah al-Sada was sentenced to five years in prison with two suspensions in late November.
After transferring his case to the Special Criminal Court in Riyadh, originally set up to try terrorism suspects, Hathal’s family made his charge sheet public, but to prosecute alleged dissidents It has been used for the past decade.
The main charges against Hathlaul, which amounted to a 20-year sentence, include: demands to change the Saudi political system, calling for the termination of male guardianship, attempting to apply for a UN job, digital privacy training Participating in, communicating internationally rights groups and other Saudi activists.
Hetoul was also charged with foreign diplomats and with international media about women’s rights in the state, including Reuters, which declined to comment.
Adam Kogel of Human Rights Watch said, “The case against Lausanne, based solely on her human rights activism, is a malice of justice. The Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.”
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Aziz El Yaqubi in Dubai and Marwa Rashad in London; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Gareth Jones and Angus McSwan)