Prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released from custody and was back at home on Wednesday, according to her sister, after being sentenced in December to six years in prison under a vague law meant to combat terrorism. Her release was confirmed by a Saudi official to CBS News.
She had been in jail since 2018, and her release after 1,001 days is due to time served and a partially suspended sentence.
Al-Hathloul was one of a handful of activists to fight for women’s rights in the ultraconservative Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia, campaigning for women to have the right to drive before they were permitted to do so in 2018.
She also demonstrated against the country’s restrictive guardianship laws, which required women to get permission from a male “guardian,” usually a relative, to do basic things like work and acquire a passport. Those laws were reformed in 2019.
According to local, state-linked media reports, al-Hathloul was found guilty by the kingdom’s anti-terrorism court of charges including agitating for change and using the internet to harm public order.
In 2018 and 2019, then-new Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman passed a series of reforms, including granting women the right to drive and modifying guardianship laws, leading many to believe that he would be a younger, more modern leader than his father.
But soon after, bin Salman cracked down on dissidents, arresting many of the women’s rights activists who had campaigned for the reforms he seemingly championed.
“The crown prince wanted to make sure that nobody would take credit for the right for women to drive,” Loujain al-Hathloul’s brother, Walid, told CBS News’ Holly Williams when she was sentenced in December.
“His personality is to make sure that he gets all the credit for himself.”
While she has been in custody, Al-Hathloul’s family says she has been subjected to electric shocks and threats of rape. A Saudi court recently ruled there was no evidence of torture.
“It was brutal. It was insane. It was inhuman,” Walid said, adding that if al-Hathloul is prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia upon being released from jail, she will still not be free.
“She will be still monitored. She will be censored. She will not be able to speak out. So that’s not freedom.”