US concerns about sentencing of human rights defender in Saudi Arabia

A Saudi Arabian court sentenced prominent women’s rights activist Lujain al-Khatlul to nearly six years in prison. This was reported by her family. The trial drew international condemnation.

The verdict and verdict challenge Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s future relationship with President-elect Joe Biden, who has criticized the human rights situation in Riyadh.

According to the Saudi newspapers Sabq and al-Shark al-Awsat, Khatlul was accused of seeking to change the political system of Saudi Arabia and damage national security in accordance with anti-terrorism laws. The court commuted the sentence by reducing Khatlul’s sentence by 2 years and 10 months – she spent most of the term in prison since her arrest on May 15, 2018. The sister of the human rights defender said that Lujine could be released on parole in March 2021.

“My sister is not a terrorist, she is an activist. It is a great hypocrisy to be condemned for their activity for the very reforms that the Crown Prince and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are so proudly proclaiming, ”Lina said in a statement.

US State Department spokesman Cale Brown said the United States was “concerned about reports” of Khatlul’s sentence.

“We stressed the importance of freedom of expression and peaceful activity in Saudi Arabia as they promote women’s rights. We look forward to her early release in 2021, ”he wrote on Twitter.

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s new national security adviser, confirmed on Twitter that the Biden administration plans to raise the issue of human rights with Riyadh.

Khatlul’s sentence “for simply exercising her rights is unjust and troubling,” Sullivan tweeted. “As we said, the Biden-Harris administration will speak out against human rights violations wherever they occur.”

UN human rights experts called the accusations “far-fetched.” The UN Human Rights Office said the verdict was “gravely troubling” and called for her immediate release.

Human rights groups and family members of the human rights activist say that Khatlul, who campaigned for women’s right to drive and end the kingdom’s male custody system, was subjected to ill-treatment, including electric shocks, water torture, flogging and sexual assault. Saudi Arabian authorities denied the charges.

In 2019, Khatlul refused to deny torture charges in exchange for early release, her family said.

Sabq and al-Shark al-Awsat said the judge said Khatlul confessed to the crimes without pressure. Khatlul’s verdict came almost three weeks after a Riyadh court sentenced US-Saudi doctor Walid al-Fitaihi to six years in prison, despite pressure from the United States.

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