DUBAI : Prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released from a Saudi prison after nearly three years behind bars, her family said on Wednesday, a case that has drawn international condemnation.
Hathloul, 31, was detained in May 2018 and sentenced in December to nearly six years in prison on charges that UN rights experts called “spurious” under broad counter-terrorism laws. The court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, most of which had already been served.
She still faces a five-year travel ban ordered by the court.
“Loujain is at home !!!!!!” her sister Lina tweeted.
Another sister, Alia, said Hathloul was at their parents’ home in Saudi Arabia. She posted a picture of Hathloul smiling in a garden, looking much thinner and with grey streaks in her hair.
Rights groups and her family say Hathloul, who had campaigned for women’s right to drive and to end Saudi’s male guardianship system, was subjected to abuse, including electric shocks, waterboarding, flogging and sexual assault.
Saudi authorities denied the accusations. A Saudi appeals court dismissed the torture claims, citing a lack of evidence, her family said on Tuesday.
Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Riyadh to bring to justice “those responsible for her torture” and ensure Hathloul faces no further punitive measures like a travel ban.
Saudi officials have not commented on her conviction or sentencing. There was no immediate comment on her release.
The White House has said President Joe Biden, who is taking a firmer line with Saudi Arabia than predecessor Donald Trump, expects Riyadh to improve its human rights record, including releasing political prisoners.
“Pleased to see the release of Loujain al-Hathloul. This is a good thing,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed her release, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“But I think it is important that others who are in the same condition as her, who have been jailed for the same reasons as her, also be released and that charges be dropped against them,” he told reporters.
Hathloul, detained along with several other women’s rights activists, was convicted on charges including seeking to change the Saudi political system and harming national unity.