The Saudi government arrested women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul a year ago for speaking out against the country’s extreme laws which give women fewer rights than men.
Now, they are willing to bargain with her. They have promised to release her, if she says on camera that she was not tortured while she has been in custody.
She has not taken the bait. Her family have announced that a former royal court advisor (who was tied to the high profile murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi) had threatened al-Hathloul with rape and murder during one of several tortures.
Saudi public prosecutor have denied all these allegations. Officials from the government deny independent parties to visit the prison.
Saudi officials claim the 30-year old activist was arrested because they suspected her of harming Saudi interests and “offering support to hostile elements abroad.”
In May last year, al-Hathloul was stopped by Saudi Arabian police while she was driving in United Arab Emirates. She was detained on unspecified charges and deported to Saudi Arabia.
What laws had this woman broken, according to Saudi law?
First, communicating with 15 to 20 foreign journalists in Saudi Arabia. This is framed as “making contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric.”
Second, attempting to apply for a job at the UN.
Third, attending a digital privacy training program to up-skill herself.
It’s more likely she was arrested for challenging the country’s strict enforcement of an interpretation of Islamic law that sees gender separation and male authority as vital to preserving a moral Islamic society.
It’s an openly and unapologetically patriarchal regime.
How else did she challenge these laws?
She posted videos of herself driving. She ran for the country’s first municipal elections in 2015. She signed the 14,000-strong petition urging people to end restrictions on women’s rights to marry or travel outside the country without a male guardian’s permission.
This year, al-Hathloul features on TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019. Ten years ago, she studied Literature at The University of British Columbia in Canada. In 2016, travelled to France to undertake a Masters Degree at the University of Paris-Sorbonne.
The self-described “dynamic trilingual Third Culture Child” continues to highlight the horrifying realities for some women in this world through her determination and uncompromising grit.
Her brother wrote earlier this year in The Guardian: “On the day of my sister’s arrest, my parents’ house was raided by armed men without a warrant. They took Loujain and for an entire month we had no idea where she was. No one would give us an answer on her whereabouts.”
The descriptions of torture are horrific: “Loujain told us she has been beaten, electrocuted and sexually harassed. She was attacked by interrogators who tried to take off her clothes, telling her she is a slut. One of the interrogators was found sitting next to her legs while she was asleep.”
Her family have been placed under a travel ban – still effective today – that bars them from leaving Saudi Arabia. Today, al-Hathloul remains in prison. And not even her family know what’s going on. The attempts to silence a woman voicing her rights as a human being are extreme.