“Although he is out of jail, he is not free!” This was the reaction of Lina Hathloul when a month ago, after the release of her sister Loujain, the network was filled with messages with the ‘hastag’ #free (free). After 1,001 days in prison, Loujain Hathloul, 31, is at home because his sentence has been suspended, but he has not received a pardon. and suffers from legal restrictions such as a travel ban outside of Saudi Arabia until 2026.
Last week, for the first time since she was released from prison, images of the young woman were seen on the way to court to appeal the conditions of her release. Not only do the Prosecutor’s Office not want to hear the appeal, but they ask for an increase in the penalty. Your crime? Fight for women’s rights in the kingdom and face the restrictions of the male guardianship system.
Loujain Hathloul is the best known face of women’s activism in Saudi Arabia. This is not the first time I have been in jail, since in 2014 when she returned from Canada, where she was studying, she tried to cross the border between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia in her father’s car and was arrested. He then spent 73 days in prison.
The campaign to get women to drive was one of the first challenges that was set Loujain, who was however arrested along with several colleagues again in 2018, the same month that the authorities decided to approve the female driving license.
Nine UN rapporteurs issued a statement at the time to denounce that “women human rights defenders have been detained in a broad raid throughout the country, which is truly worrying ”and shows“ a contradictory position ”in the openness policies that the country preaches. They were accused of having maintained contacts and supported individuals and organizations “hostile” to the kingdom and some of them remain locked up.
The inflection point for women’s rights activists in the kingdom it was the entrance on the scene of the thirty-year-old prince Mohamed bin Salmán (MBS). Since he was appointed heir, leads a process of changes within the framework of his project ‘Vision 2030’, whose less friendly face is formed by the war in Yemen, the wave of arrests of human rights activists or the approval of the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khassogi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
With a month to go before Saudi Arabia allowed the women to drive, the security forces arrested thirteen activists, including Loujain. According to critical voices, the prince wants to monopolize the echo of this type of social progress so that instead of looking like the fruit of many years of struggle, they are perceived as a kind of real blessing.
Three years later, two of the activists remain behind bars and the others have been convicted of “serving an agenda external to the kingdom using the internet (…) in order to harm the public system, in addition to collaborating with a number of people and entities that committed criminal acts in accordance with the terrorism law “, according to the press of the kingdom when explaining the case of a Loujain, who in the official media is not an activist of women’s rights, but a kind of traitor due to her destabilizing role.
Loujain’s parole has served to remind the media of a life marked by the struggle against the limitations it imposes the guardianship system for women in the kingdom, “the most significant impediment to the realization of their rights”, according to organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW).
This male guardianship system dictates the lives of women in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries. ANDAmong other things, it prevents them from traveling abroad, obtaining a passport, marrying, studying, working or leaving prison without the consent of a male relative. Women depend on their parents, husbands, or even children to make important decisions.
«It is a system in which tradition and religion go hand in hand and what it has achieved is to turn women into second-class citizensía ”, explains Carlos de las Heras, an expert on Saudi Arabia at Amnesty International (AI). In the last three years, the MBS reforms have made progress, such as lifting the ban on driving or obtaining passports to travel abroad without permission from a male relative, “but progress is being made very slowly and we must report that the persecution suffered by women women who fought so hard for these rights “, considers De las Heras.
Within the changes approved by the heir, women can also attend football matches, in a space reserved for families, enlist in the Army for positions that do not involve entry into combat and from the age of 25, and do gymnastics in schools. According to the 2018 Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum, it is one of the most unequal countries in the world, ranking 141st out of 149 countries analyzed.
The reformist princess Bin Saud has been behind bars for two years
The case of Loujain and that of Princess Basmah Bin Saud are the ones that have had the most media coverage in recent years when it comes to the situation of women in Saudi Arabia. In April 2020, Princess Basmah wrote a message on Twitter that read: “I beseech my uncle, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, and my cousin, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman ( MBS), to review my case and release me, as I have done nothing wrong. My current state of health is VERY critical.
The princess has been held since March 2019 with one of her daughters, Sohoud, in the high security prison of Al-Hair and, according to the German television channel Deutsche Welle (DW), she has heart problems. Basmah, 57, is the youngest daughter of King Saud, who ruled between 1953 and 1964 and had 108 children. She is also the granddaughter of the founder of the kingdom.
His parental ties have been of no use to him and since he returned to the country in 2015 after spending almost his entire life between Lebanon, the United Kingdom and the United States. The problems accumulate due to his messages in defense of the reforms in the kingdom. In an interview granted in 2018 to the British channel BBC, he called for the end of the war in Yemen, a contest launched by his cousin MBS, and was in favor of ending the absolutist monarchy to become a constitutional one.
Within the royal family there is no room for criticism, especially since MBS is the strongest person in the country. “This is an example of how, as a woman, if you fight for your rights in a country like this, it doesn’t save you, unless you are royalty,” concludes Carlos de las Heras.
For two years there has been no information about her, two years in which the crown prince struggles to give an image of changes and openness to the outside that collides at a domestic level with realities such as those of Basmah and Loujain.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.