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Loujain al-Hathloul: Released Saudi activist’s family ‘want real justice’

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image captionLoujain al-Hathloul’s sister, Lina, tweeted a screenshot of a video call following her release on Wednesday

The family of the Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul says she will seek to bring to justice those she accuses of torturing her in prison.

Ms Hathloul was released on Wednesday after almost three years in detention, but she is subject to a travel ban and forbidden from speaking to the media.

On Thursday, her sisters said she had identified a close former aide of the Saudi crown prince as being present during her alleged torture sessions.

Officials deny that she was mistreated.

A Saudi appeals court also dismissed the torture accusations earlier this week, citing a lack of evidence, according to Ms Hathloul’s family.

“What we want now is real justice,” her sister Lina told an online news conference. “That Loujain is completely, unconditionally free.”

The Loujain al-Hathloul story is far from over.

The family of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent human rights activist say she has emerged from her 1,001 days in prison more resilient than ever, smiling and asking for ice cream as her first request. The family have vowed to clear her name from what they say are unjust charges.

They want the travel ban lifted, reparations for time spent in prison, and Saudi newspapers held accountable for what they say was a campaign of defamation.

But above all Loujain al-Hathloul wants those who she maintains tortured her in prison held accountable. Chief among them, she claims, is Saud al-Qahtani, the former close aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The family say they will pursue all legal means at their disposal.

Ms Hathloul, 31, was instrumental in the campaign to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia. She was detained in May 2018, just weeks before the ban was lifted, along with about a dozen other female activists as part of an apparent crackdown on dissent in the kingdom.

Officials insisted that Ms Hathloul was not arrested because of her activism, but rather her contacts with foreign diplomats, media and other organisations.

media caption(June 2018) Saudi women hit the road

For the first three months, she was held incommunicado, without access to her family and lawyer.

Human rights organisations later reported accusations that interrogators had tortured her and at least three other women during that time, including with electronic shocks and whippings, and had sexually harassed them.

“Loujain recognised him. So, that’s why we are sure about him. She knows he’s a public figure, she knew him,” another sister, Alia, said on Wednesday.

“He was here during the torture session, he was attending the torture session. So, we are sure about him, about his name. We have some information about the others but we are not completely sure.”

There was no immediate comment on the allegation from Mr Qahtani.

He was sacked as an adviser to the crown prince after being accused of overseeing from Riyadh the team of agents that murdered the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. Saudi prosecutors investigated him in connection with the killing, but he was not charged with any offence.

Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, the Specialised Criminal Court, meanwhile found Ms Hathloul guilty last December of “acts criminalised according to article 43 of the counterterrorism and terror finance law”, including “inciting change to the basic ruling regime” and “serving a foreign agenda inside the kingdom by using the internet with the objective of damaging public order”.

Ms Hathloul denied the charges, which UN experts described as “spurious”, but the judge ruled that she had “confessed willingly”.

And while the judge suspended part of her prison sentence of five years and eight months, paving the way for her release on Wednesday, he warned that the suspension would be annulled if she “commits any crimes” within the next three years. He also banned her from leaving Saudi Arabia for five years.

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