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Biden adviser slams Saudi sentencing of rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul

Jake Sullivan calls nearly six-year sentence handed down to women's rights activist 'unjust and troubling'
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Washington

US President-elect Joe Biden's national security adviser has condemned Saudi Arabia over its sentencing of women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul on terrorism charges.

Jake Sullivan said in a Tweet on Monday that the sentencing was "unjust and troubling", and pledged that the incoming Biden administration would "stand up against human rights violations when they occur".

A Saudi terrorism court on Monday sentenced Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison, despite international criticism of her detention and pressure to release her.

Hathloul was arrested in May 2018 after openly calling for the right to drive before it was granted and for the removal of male guardianship laws that had long stifled women's freedom of movement and ability to travel.

According to rights group ALQST, court documents in Hathloul's trial were rife with "gross judicial flaws", including evidence from the prosecution where she is said to have confessed to actions related to her human rights activism.

Her family has alleged that she has experienced sexual harassment and torture in detention. Saudi authorities vigorously deny the charges.

Loujain al-Hathloul, the Saudi activist who has put women's rights on the map
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Loujain's trial comes just days after the Saudi terrorism court sentenced prominent American-Saudi doctor Walid Fitaihi, 56, to six years in prison on charges that include getting US citizenship without permission from authorities and sympathising with an unidentified terrorist organisation.

Fitaihi was sentenced despite pleas from US lawmakers and officials calling for his release. 

Fitaihi, a physician and well-being expert with a large social media following, was arrested in November 2017 as part of the so-called "Ritz Carlton purge" that saw the detention of dozens of Saudi royals and business leaders.

Sullivan's criticism comes as Biden has taken a uncharacteristically harsher tone towards Riyadh.

In recent months, Biden has pledged to end US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, has promised to "reassess" Washington's relationship with Riyadh in the aftermath of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and called the Saudi kingdom a "pariah".

US President Donald Trump and his administration, on the other hand, have remained largely silent on the various cases of human rights abuses, and Trump has gone to great lengths to defend Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the aftermath of Khashoggi's murder, despite a CIA report linking the crown prince to the act.

Last week, the Trump administration notified Congress that it was moving forward with a $478m sale of 7,500 precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia.

The US was also reported to be considering granting bin Salman legal immunity in a lawsuit accusing him of attempting to assassinate high-level intelligence officer Saad al-Jabri.