Loujain Al-Hathlou, 29 years old, is a Saudi activist for women’s rights. She decided to fight for women’s freedom and women’s rights arousing a stir in the whole world.
She is known for being one of the leaders of the movement “Women2Drive” in favour of Saudi women’s right to drive. The movement organised protests against the prohibition for women to drive, posting videos of women driving on the Internet. The protest ended on 26th September 2017 when Prince Mohammed Bin Salam issued a royal decree establishing the release of driving licenses for women starting from June 2018. On 30th November 2014 Loujain Al-Hathlou tried to cross the border of UAE driving a car, due to this she has been imprisoned for 73 days. She was put to trial before the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), the country's anti-terrorism court, and was released on 12 February 2015, but her legal status was not clarified. In November 2015, she stood for election, taking the first opportunity that the Saudi monarchy had granted women the right to vote and stand for election. Although her candidacy had been officially admitted, her name was never added to the lists. In the same year she was ranked third in the Top 100 most powerful Arab women list.
She was arrested yet again on 4th June 2017 at the King Fahad international airport in Dammam, when she came back to Saudi Arabia from a journey abroad. The reason for her capture wasn’t clear, and she couldn’t even see her lawyer or contact her family.
When Riyad announced the end of the ban for women to drive, Loujain was called by the authorities that prevented her from commenting the news or to talk about it on social media. In order to avoid the ban, she moved to UAE and she enrolled to the Abu Dhabi Sorbonne University where she took a master’s degree in Sociology. The stay was interrupted last March, when the young woman was taken from the security services - together with her husband - and taken back to Riyadh, where she was imprisoned and then released.
Nevertheless, she is still in prison from May 2018. According to some sources her husband, who was released, was obliged to divorce from her by the authorities.
In a recent article on the “New York Times” her sister Alia Al-Hathloul reported that the young activist has been beaten, they tried to drown her with waterboarding, she has been electrocuted and threatened of rape: everything under the royal presence. The latest investigation by Amnesty International confirms the inhumane prison conditions imposed by the Saudi authorities on feminist militants. The report denounces the dramatic situation of a dozen prominent exponents of the feminist movement in the kingdom - including Loujain - who were transferred to prison without ever having received formal notification of any charge, without even having had the opportunity to contact a lawyer or a member of her family. The massive wave of arrests in May 2018 was justified by the Royal House in the form of "national security requirements".
The peaceful commitment to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia has been targeted once again.
Israa al-Ghomgham is a human rights activist in Saudi Arabia, and she is the first woman to risk the death penalty. She is best known for her investigation into the al-Qatif riots 2017-2018. The young activist, just 30 years old, has been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, because of her pacifist activities in favour of human rights. Al-Ghomgham was arrested in 2015 with her husband, activist Mousa Al-Hashim, both leading figures in the 2011 government uprising in Al-Qatif, at a time when pro-democracy protests spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Qatif is in the easternmost province, where the Shiite minority, which makes up 15% of the population, is concentrated. Shiite Muslims, subject to the Sunni kingdom, suffer "widespread discrimination", including ill-treatment by the judiciary, government interference in religious affairs, exclusion from certain jobs, stigmatization and prejudice, according to Human Right Watch.
Along with many other Saudi Shiites, Al-Ghomgham and her husband were protesting these injustices, asking the government to recognize their rights.
Al-Ghomgham has received eight charges including "preparation and dissemination of materials against public order" under the Cybercrime Act of 2007. She was also accused of "inciting rebellion and youth against law enforcement agencies on social networks" by posting photos and videos of protests on the web. The woman was sentenced to death. Human Rights Watch emphasized that the execution of the sentence would set "a risky precedent for other women currently behind bars," the number of whom has increased in recent years. According to the non-profit, the charges against the activist and five other activists do not resemble any recognizable crime, making the demand for the death penalty even more unjustified.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has received new information explaining in a public statement that the Saudi authorities would not seek to impose the death penalty on the activist. The young woman is still being held in the general intelligence prison of AL-Dhamam, and the same charges are still pending against her.
The hope of these two young women and other people fighting like them, is that sooner or later Saudi Arabia will realize the serious injustices and discrimination of which it is responsible. In order to obtain freedom and the recognition of rights, the road is long and full of disagreements; but this won’t stop young activists to resisting or opposing. The courage of Loujain Al-Hathloul and Israa al-Ghomgham can be an example for all the other young activists who are victims of human rights violations.
Translated by Francesca Cioffi
Original version by Valeriana Savino