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Saudi court rejects women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul's appeal against terror conviction

Saudi Arabia sentences women's rights activist to prison
Saudi Arabia sentences women's rights activis... 02:40

London — Leading Saudi Arabian women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul appeared optimistic as she walked into the Court of Appeals on Wednesday morning in Riyadh.

"Let's hope that the sentence has been changed, or modified a little bit," she told a group of journalists outside the courthouse in the Saudi capital. "We'll see how it goes."

The court ruled against her, upholding her conviction on charges that include illegal communication with foreign diplomatic missions, international human rights organizations and journalists, her family said.

"The judges confirmed the first sentencing of @LoujainHathloul, which means SA [Saudi Arabia] confirms considering the UK, the EU, and the Netherlands 'terrorist entities' and contacting them a 'terrorist act,'" her sister, Lina al-Hathloul, who live in Europe, wrote on Twitter just minutes after the court ruling.  

Al-Hathloul first noted herself, during a previous appeal hearing on March 2, that the Saudi King and Foreign Ministry both grant permission for all foreign diplomatic missions in the country - including the ones she was seemingly convicted of breaking terrorism laws for communicating with as "terrorist entities." The Saudi justice system has never clearly explained al-Hathloul's alleged violations of the vague laws.

The same court of appeals that issued Wednesday's ruling in February upheld a decision by the Saudi Criminal Court to dismiss allegations by al-Hathloul that she was tortured during three years of imprisonment in the kingdom.

She claims she was tortured and sexually harassed in prison prior to her December sentencing, all under the eyes of Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Al-Hathloul asked for the prison's security camera recordings to be shown in court, but prosecutors said the prison cameras only stored video for 40 days, and the material had already been purged.

Saudi women's rights activist sentenced 06:54

Al-Hathloul a was sentenced to 5 years and 8 months in prison by the Spe­­­cialized Criminal Court [terrorism court] in December. In February, after already having spent 1,001 days behind bars on previous charges related to her protest against laws banning women from driving, al-Hathloul was released, with officials citing a partial suspension of the sentence and time already served.

The Biden administration — which al-Hathloul's family said had "contributed a lot" to getting her out of prison — welcomed her release, but U.S. Senator Jim Risch issued a statement on behalf of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee making it clear that the Saudi government should go further

He called the activist's release, "a good first step, however, all of her charges should be dropped and she should be allowed to travel freely."

Al-Hathloul's family has stressed that she isn't really free. She's been placed under probation, banning her from leaving Saudi Arabia for five years and from speaking to any media in any way for at least three years.

"She moved from one small prison into a bigger one," her sister Lina said on Wednesday. ­­­With the court's decision on Wednesday, those circumstances appeared unlikely to change any time soon.

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