Loujain Alhathloul is a prominent women’s rights activist currently imprisoned by Saudi Arabia. She faces numerous charges related to her activism and remains in pre-trial detention.
Alhathloul is one of the leaders of the Saudi women’s rights movement helping to raise awareness about the systemic marginalization and abuse of women in Saudi Arabia. As part of the “Together We Stand to End Male Guardianship” and “Women Demand the Overthrow of Guardianship” campaigns, Alhathloul advocated against Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers, the Saudi male guardianship system, and domestic violence. She has advanced her cause by raising awareness online, supporting international human rights monitors, and conducting peaceful protests by driving despite the ban.
The Saudi government has repeatedly targeted Alhathloul for her activism. She was arrested in December 2014 for attempting to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia and again in June 2017 on unspecified charges. In March 2018, she was forcibly removed from the United Arab Emirates, where she had been living, and brought back to Saudi Arabia where she was detained for several days.
On the evening of May 15, 2018, armed state security officers raided her home and arrested her without a warrant. Over the next three days, the Saudi government arrested more than a dozen women’s rights activists. Ironically, the crackdown coincided with the government’s decision to lift the driving ban on women, a decision welcomed by many of the activists. The government initiated a misinformation and propaganda campaign immediately after the arrest of Alhathloul and her fellow activists. Local newspapers referred to the women as “traitors”; pro-government Twitter accounts used similar language.
After her arrest, Alhathloul was kept incommunicado for 35 days. During her detention, she was tortured by Saudi officials, who whipped, beat, electrocuted, and sexually harassed her. Alhathloul’s parents have stated that her “thighs were blackened by bruises” when they were finally allowed to visit her in December 2018, and that she “was shaking uncontrollably, unable to hold her grip, to walk or sit normally.” Both Alhathloul and her parents submitted formal complaints to the government regarding this treatment. To date, these complaints have gone unanswered.
On March 13, 2019, an official indictment against Alhathloul was issued and her trial began. The full indictment, which has not been made public, included 12 separate charges related to Alhathloul’s activism. The vast majority of the charges make no reference to any provision of Saudi law and instead single out activities, such as applying for a job with the United Nations, that are protected under international human rights law. The trial, which has been closed to the public, was continuously postponed since April 2019. The trial resumed in January 2020.
In August 2019, Saudi State Security officials offered to release Alhathloul if she recorded a video denying that she had been tortured. She refused this offer.
Freedom Now filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Alhathloul in September 2019. The Working Group issued an opinion in June 2020 finding that Alhathloul’s imprisonment was a violation of international law and calling for her imediate release.
In January 2020, eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives nominated Alhathloul for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Nominating Loujain Alhathloul for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize
Opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regarding Loujain Alhathloul
Petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Loujain Alhathloul