Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al Hathloul, who was released after 1,001-day detention last month, filed an appeal against a restriction on her to travel outside Saudi Arabia.

Saudi activist Loujain al Hathloul is pictured on her way to the state security court in the Saudi capital Riyadh on March 10, 2021.
Saudi activist Loujain al Hathloul is pictured on her way to the state security court in the Saudi capital Riyadh on March 10, 2021. (AFP)

A court in Saudi Arabia has denied the appeal by one of the kingdom's most prominent political activists that would have allowed her to travel freely, her supporters said, weeks after her release from prison.

Loujain al Hathloul, whose 1,001-day detention drew fierce international criticism of the kingdom’s human rights record, had hoped to lift a five-year ban on traveling outside Saudi Arabia that the court imposed as a condition of her release. 

She also faces three years of probation, meaning that she cannot return to activism or speak her mind without risking re-arrest, her family said.

The court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, most of which had already been served. Hathloul, whose release is conditional, remains under a travel ban.

Hathloul has declined interviews with the press and largely stayed silent on social media for that reason.

The Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh, which handles terrorism and national security charges, confirmed Hathloul's original sentence on Wednesday, a rubber-stamp decision on the publicised and politicised case.

“The international community should be outraged at this judgment,” her sister Lina al Hathloul said in a statement. “The confirmation of the sentence of my sister Loujain is yet another confirmation of the abuse of power of the Saudi authorities."

Her travel ban underscores the government’s efforts to manage dissent in the kingdom through protracted restrictions on freed political prisoners. 

Two Saudi-Americans also released last month similarly face travel bans and asset freezes pending trial for what rights groups describe as unsubstantiated terrorism charges.

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New US administration

Hathloul, 31, gained prominence as a champion of women’s right to drive before the kingdom lifted the ban in mid-2018. She was sentenced to almost six years in prison last December under vague cybercrime and counterterrorism laws. 

Rights activists described the charges as retribution for her activism.

Last month, her high-profile release came as the kingdom’s rulers, who cultivated close ties to former president Donald Trump, braced for a strained relationship with President Joe Biden.

US President Joe Biden's administration, which has taken a tough stance over Saudi Arabia's human rights record, has urged Riyadh to release political prisoners including women's rights activists.

Since taking office, Biden has announced the end of US support to the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen, paused some arms sales to the kingdom and released an intelligence report on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi that concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had likely approved the murder.

Biden welcomed Hathloul’s release as “the right thing to do.”

Now, Hathloul's family is trying to keep her case in the spotlight, praising the international pressure that secured her release while warning that she, and other women's rights activists, are not free.

“As long as she cannot campaign for women’s rights, as long as she cannot be an activist again, things won’t change honestly,” Hathloul’s sister told reporters after her release.

Saudi authorities released two activists with US citizenship on bail in February pending trials on terrorism-related charges.

In January, a Saudi appeals court nearly halved a six-year prison sentence for a US-Saudi physician and suspended the rest, meaning he did not have to return to jail.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies