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Prominent Saudi women's rights activist sentenced to almost 6 years

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

Dubai, United Arab Emirates — One of Saudi Arabia's most prominent women's rights activists was sentenced on Monday to nearly six years in prison under a vague and broadly-worded law aimed at combating terrorism, according to state-linked media. Loujain al-Hathloul's case as well as her imprisonment for the past two and a half years, have drawn criticism from rights groups, members of the U.S. Congress and European Union lawmakers.

Al-Hathloul was among a handful of Saudi women who openly called for the right to drive before it was granted in 2018 and for the removal of male guardianship laws that had long stifled women's freedom of movement and ability to travel abroad.

State-linked Saudi news outlet Sabq reported that al-Hathloul was found guilty by the kingdom's anti-terrorism court on charges including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda, using the internet to harm public order and cooperating with individuals and entities that have committed crimes according to anti-terror laws. She has 30 days to appeal the verdict.

A rights group called "Prisoners of Conscience" that focuses on Saudi political detainees said al-Hathloul could be released as early as the end of March based on time served. She has been imprisoned since May 2018 and 34 months of her sentencing will be suspended.

Saudi Women Arrests
November 2014 image made from video released by Loujain al-Hathloul shows her driving towards the United Arab Emirates - Saudi Arabia border before her arrest on Dec. 1, 2014, in Saudi Arabia.  Loujain al-Hathloul / AP

The judge ordered her to serve five years and eight months in prison for violating anti-terrorism laws, according to Sabq, which said its reporter was allowed inside the courtroom during Monday's session.

Sabq reported that the judge said the defendant had confessed to committing the crimes and that her confessions were made voluntarily and without coercion. The judge said the verdict was issued in the presence of the prosecutor, the defendant, a representative from the government's Human Rights Commission and a handful of select local media representatives.

The group "Motaqali al-Rai," or "Prisoners of Conscience," said the sentence "was issued on the backdrop of false accusations of 'seeking to implement a foreign agenda and change the basic system of government,'" reports CBS News' Khaled Wassef.

He adds that the London-based Saudi ALQST for Human Rights said court documents highlight gross judicial flaws in al-Hathloul's trial.

Her family hasn't commented on the court's decision.

A Saudi activist who declined to be identified due to fears for her family's safety told Agency France-Presse that al-Hathloul has come to represent the kingdom's modern feminists. "Loujain is the young rebel woman … who embodies global values... and calls out the (lies) of the state," she remarked.

Another Saudi activist described al-Hathloul as an "incredibly fierce and resolute" champion of women's rights.

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