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Saudi prosecutor seeks 20 years in prison for women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul

Terrorism court judge says verdict and possible sentencing in Hathloul's case may be expected as early as Monday
Loujain al-Hathloul
Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested in May 2018 alongside at least a dozen other women activists (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia's state prosecutor is seeking the maximum possible jail sentence - 20 years behind bars - for women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, her sister Lina confirmed. 

Hathloul, 31, is being tried in the kingdom's notorious terrorism court. In a hearing on Wednesday, the judge said a verdict and possible sentence for Hathloul's case may come as early as Monday, the Guardian reported, based on a copy of the prosecution's indictment provided by the activist's sister.  

'They say she is a terrorist - in reality, she is a humanitarian, an activist and a woman who simply wants a better, fairer world'

- Lina al-Hathloul, sister of Loujain al-Hathloul

Things became more complicated later on Wednesday, as Hathloul's parents, who act as her legal team, were summoned via text to Riyadh’s criminal court on Thursday morning, Lina said on Twitter.

Hathloul's case was controversially transferred to the terrorism court late last month; it remains unclear if her parents' summoning to the criminal court implies another transfer. 

"My sister must be released... All she has done is ask for women to be treated with the dignity and freedom that should be their right. For that, the Saudi authorities are seeking the maximum sentence available under the law - 20 years in prison," Lina told the Guardian on Wednesday.

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'All they have are a bunch of tweets'

The women's rights activist was arrested in May 2018 with at least a dozen other women activists, just weeks before the decades-long ban on female drivers was lifted. 

She and other imprisoned activists are being charged under the country's anti-cybercrime law, with the allegations against her described by UN experts as "spurious".

The charges included allegations that the activists, including Hathloul, "communicated with people and entities hostile to the king", "cooperated with journalists and media institutions hostile to the king", "provided financial support to foreign adversaries" and "recruited persons for information detrimental to the security of the kingdom".

"They say she is a terrorist - in reality, she is a humanitarian, an activist and a woman who simply wants a better, fairer world," Lina said.

Loujain al-Hathloul: Saudi Arabia uses tweets supporting women's rights as evidence
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During a hearing on Monday, a Saudi public prosecutor cited tweets posted by Hathloul about a campaign to let women drive and the kingdom's guardianship system as evidence against the jailed rights activist. 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has presented himself as a reformer but has overseen a brutal crackdown on dissidents and independent Saudis, previously claimed there were videos of Hathloul proving she worked as a spy.

Still, on Monday, Hathloul's brother Walid noted that no such evidence was presented. 

"No evidences were provided that are related to providing information to foreign hostile, recruiting people in sensitive positions," Walid said on Twitter. 

"All they have are a bunch of tweets that they did not like."

UN experts have called on Saudi Arabia to release the imprisoned women's rights activists. 

When Hathloul first appeared before a court last month, her family said she looked ill. Hathloul's family and rights groups have alleged that she has experienced sexual harassment and torture in detention. Saudi authorities deny the charges.

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