In 2014, a 25-year-old Saudi woman, Loujain al-Hathloul, got behind the wheel of a car and drove from United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia.
For women, driving was banned in the ultra-conservative Saudi Kingdom, and Hathloul's road trip landed her in jail for more than two months. 19659009] Despite her arrest, Hathloul, who had a driver's license from the UAE, continued to battle for Saudi women's right to drive. But her efforts have taken a more grave turn last March, when she was arrested in the UAE, says Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher with Human Rights Watch
Jamal is part of a Vancouver-based group called Friends of Loujain, calling for the release of Hathloul and the other jailed Saudi female activists. felt compelled to join Friends of Loujain simply as someone who knew her, and someone who has watched her over the years grow in her activism, "she says. Hathloul is "someone who took a huge risk of advancing women's rights in her country and is now facing the most heinous injustices," she says.
Jamal and human rights activists believe Hathloul was arrested because Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,
Jamal was outraged when Vogue Arabia dedicated a special edition in June 2018 to the changes in the kingdom under the crown prince. There was no mention of Hathloul or other driving activists, and the glossy cover, touting the "trailblazing women of Saudi Arabia," featured a photo of a Saudi princess behind the wheel of a red convertible.
The Friends of Loujain group parody that image with a photo of a female driver wearing a "Free Loujain" t-shirt. A separate photo, showing five women wearing t-shirts calling for freedom for her and four other jailed activists, was published in September in Teen Vogue along with an op-ed by Jamal and other group members. The women write that these activists are "the real trailblazers behind the overturned [driving] ban" and demand their release
The following month, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. U.S. Pat. intelligence agencies have made an assessment that the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi's death.
Jamal says Khashoggi's killing raised awareness of Hathlou's situation
"There was a lot of worldwide attention, not just to Khashoggi's case, but also Saudi Arabia's human rights record, "she says. "A lot of people were suddenly talking about the detained activists as well."
In November, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued reports on the maltreatment of female activists in prison. Coogle says the rights groups' allegations were firmed up by Hathlou's sister Alia, who wrote a Jan. 13 op-ed for the New York Times in which she revealed that Loujain had told her parents that she had suffered brutal torture, including beatings, waterboarding, whippings, and electric shocks. she noticed that she was trembling and she could not sit or stand properly, "says Coogle
In a Jan. 31 op-ed for CNN, Hathloul's brother Walid wrote that his sister described was taken at midnight to a "palace of terror" that is 10 minutes away from the prison, she said she was blindfolded and thrown into the trunk of a car "
On a visit last week to Washington, DC, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the Saudi authorities were looking at the secret torture sessions, she said, normally in the basement of this palace. into allegations of mistreatment.
"There were funds received from foreign governments that were hostile," he told reporters. "There were attempts to recruit individuals in sensitive positions and take sensitive information and pass it on to hostile entities outside Saudi Arabia."
Jubeir said the evidence about female activists would come up at trial. "I would say wait until the trials take place and the evidence will come out," he said. "Those who are not involved will be declared innocent and those who are guilty will be punished."
Now, 10 months after their arrests, there's growing pressure – from Western governments, human rights groups, and the U.S. and U.K. press – on Saudi Arabia to release the jailed female activists
A few years ago, when I was writing for American Dad !, I needed an Arabic speaker for a small part. Our casting director recommended a Saudi comedian, who happened to be in LA for a couple of months shooting and a TV show. His name is Fahad Albutairi
– Kirk Rudell (@krudell) January 2, 2019
Last month, an impassioned Twitter thread about Hathloul and her husband, comic Fahad Albutairi, went viral. Kirk Rudell, and writer and producer in Los Angeles, met them on the set of the TBS show American Dad! in 2017, after he hired Albutairi for a small part
Rudell recalls they were
Rudell says Hathloul and Albutairi were hopeful
"Rudolf says Hathloul and Albutairi were hopeful about the changes in Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He knew that Hathloul had been arrested in the past but she thought she and her husband were safe because they were so well known
He started to worry in early January when he saw that Albutairi's Twitter account had disappeared and Hathloul's went dormant .
Rudell says he feels a profound sense of sadness and anger because when he met the couple, they told him they were excited about the creative projects they were going to work on. He was stunned and gratified by his tweet captured worldwide attention, including from celebrities including Sarah Silverman, high profile journalists such as Jake Tapper and Chris Hayes, and politicians including California Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He says more needs to be done to ensure that Hathloul and others are released from Saudi prison
"They were not advocating for overthrow," he says. "They love their country, they just wanted to be able to live in it a little more equally."