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Senior US House Democrat demands update on Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul

Congressman Adam Schiff warns that kingdom's 'failure to address' imprisonment of women's rights activists 'will be a factor' in US-Saudi cooperation
Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul (AFP photo/Facebook)

A senior US House Democrat has demanded that Saudi Arabia provide information on the status of Saudi women's rights activist Loujain Al-Hathloul, who has been imprisoned by Riyadh for more than two years.

Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, expressed his "continued concern" over Hathloul's treatment on Tuesday in a letter sent to Saudi Arabia's US ambassador, Reema bint Bandar al-Saud.

"The continued detention of Ms. al-Hathloul, amidst a global pandemic that has taken the lives of many Saudis and Americans alike, is deeply alarming and in light of conditions during this pandemic, also dangerous," Schiff said.

Hathloul was arrested in the United Arab Emirates and deported to Saudi Arabia in May 2018, weeks before the much-publicised lifting of the kingdom's driving ban on women - a right she had long championed.

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Since being imprisoned, Hathloul, along with several other female activists, have reportedly been subjected to torture.

"Her trial has been repeatedly delayed without explanation, nor has the evidence of her supposed crimes been described," Schiff wrote his letter, stopping just short of calling for al-Hathloul's outright release.  

"She has been held for long periods without contact with her family, and she has reportedly been subjected to physical and mental torture while in prison, as well as threats of rape and murder."

In his letter, Schiff highlighted a House resolution passed in July 2019 that called attention to the Saudi Arabia's continued imprisonment of Hathloul and other women's rights activists.

"Saudi Arabia's failure to address these and related concerns will be a factor in decisions that Congress makes regarding future US cooperation with and support for the Kingdom," Schiff said. 

The congressman reiterated his "previously stated concerns about her welfare", referring to a letter sent last year to al-Saud's predecessor. He also asked to be updated on Hathloul's current condition. 

'My sister's suffering'

On Wednesday, Amnesty International UK released a statement highlighting the Hathloul family's pleas that the British government intervene in her case. 

"My sister is being punished for daring to drive, for daring to challenge the sexism and gender discrimination of Saudi society, and for who she is: a heroic person," Hathloul's sister, Lina said.

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"I hope the UK government doesn't forget about my sister's suffering - it must speak up and use its power and influence to publicly call for her release," she continued.

Hathloul's family says she has periodically been denied phone calls, and that she was censored during the calls she was allowed make.

Kate Allen, Amnesty's UK director, also asked the British government "to publicly call for the immediate and unconditional release" of all women's rights activists imprisoned in the kingdom. 

"The Saudi authorities are punishing these women for their independence, their bravery and their wish for freedom - nothing more," Allen said. 

"Apparently, the Crown Prince wanted all the glory for lifting the driving ban and couldn’t bear to credit Loujain and her fellow campaigners with anything."