From the right of women to lead to the abolition of male guardianship, Loujain Al-Hathloul has become one of the pillars of feminism in Saudi Arabia. As the country prepares to chair the next G20 summit, voices are rising to demand the release of the 31-year-old young woman, imprisoned since May 2018 and who went on a hunger strike on October 28.
“It’s me and my sister in December 2017. As Saudi Arabia hosts the G20 summit, it will be spending her 920th day in prison. Will anyone ask about her? She has been on a hunger strike for 16 days. We haven’t heard from since, ”wrote Lina Al-Hathloul on Twitter on November 11. Detained since May 2018 in a prison located 25 km from Riyadh, her sister Loujain began a new hunger strike since October 28 in order to be able to have regular contact with her family. In August, the activist had already stopped eating for almost a week after being deprived of contact with his family for several months, we can read on the Human Rights Watch website.
A first arrest in 2013
At 31, Loujain al-Hathloul already has a long career as a feminist activist. Daughter of an officer in the Navy, she was born in Jeddah on July 31, 1989 before spending part of her life in Toulon, France. A student of French literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the 23-year-old stands out by posting facetious videos, in which she denounces the restrictions imposed on women in Saudi Arabia. This earned him criticism, insults, intimidation or threats. And it is a video filmed by her father, showing her at the wheel of a car, which earned her her first arrest in 2013. And for good reason: at the time, women were not yet allowed to drive. “His activism began with the ban on driving [pour les femmes] then it progressed because she knew that it was only the tip of the iceberg, ”observed a relative of Loujain al-Hathloul in an interview with Orient-Le Jour in March. “She’s someone who cares more about others than herself. She lived well and freely, she did not carry out these actions for her own benefit. ”
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Released after 73 days of detention, Loujain al-Hathloul is more determined than ever to advance women’s rights in his country. In 2015, when women had just been allowed to vote and run as candidates, the activist was running for municipal elections. The Saudi authorities initially refused his candidacy before eventually accepting him. However, his name will not appear on the ballot papers. The following year, the young woman joined 14,000 other people in signing a petition addressed to King Salman ben Abdelaziz Al Saoud. Their request? The abolition of the male guardianship system. Once again, Loujain al-Hathloul is arrested and then released.
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In May 2018, a month before the announcement of the lifting of the ban on driving made to Saudi women, the young woman was arrested with other activists for “attempt to destabilize the kingdom”. The reason for the offense: having met the UN Committee in February 2018 to share its observations on the situation of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. While her trial scheduled for March 2020 has been canceled, the young woman and her relatives are still waiting for a new date to be set. While in detention, the young woman was awarded the Freedom Prize on October 2. “This price is very, very important. When we told him, we immediately felt that it gave him wings for his fight (…) Seeing Loujain’s name in the French press, it helps us (…), it indirectly influences your representatives ”, said Alia Al-Hathloul, elder sister of the activist who had come to receive the award on her behalf.
Victim of sexual harassment and torture
According to his family, Loujain was the victim of sexual harassment and torture. The detainee also reportedly told her relatives that the former royal adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, allegedly threatened to rape and kill her, which the Saudi authorities strongly deny. As Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed ben Salman prepares to chair the next G20 on November 21 and 22, the international community is trying to put pressure on the Wahhabi kingdom. On October 19, sixty-five MEPs called on the European Union to review its participation in this virtual summit, accusing the kingdom of violating human rights. A position followed by forty-five US deputies who urged the US government to boycott the G20 summit.
Calls for a boycott of the G20
At the end of September, the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo had already indicated that she would not participate in the summit of the major cities of the G20, in order to show her support for Loujain Al-Hathloul, who became an honorary citizen of the City of Paris in 2019. The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio has also chosen to boycott these meetings. For their part, the UN and the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women called on the Saudi authorities to release the activist. But Mohammed ben Salman, the strong man of the country, “imprisons those whose strength and popularity he fears”, recalls Alia Al-Hathloul who with Lina is leading the fight to have their sister released, and whose portrait can be read in Release. Admiring Loujain, she adds about him: “she refuses to submit to the system and believes she can change it. She does not understand that we can be afraid. ” On social networks, Alia and Lina are organizing their sister’s liberation campaign around the slogan “Don’t kill Loujain!”. A fight which, they are convinced, protects Loujain and “thousands of other political prisoners who languish in Saudi jails incognito”, explains Alia to Release.
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