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Meghan Markle’s friend who posed with her on Vanity Fair photoshoot faces 20 years in jail in Saudi Arabia
Loujain Al-Hathloul attended the One Young World humanitarian summit with Meghan Markle, Emma Watson, Cher and then Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau two years ago
By Anthony Harwood, The Mirror, July 24, 2018:
A women’s rights activist who once posed with The Duchess of Sussex for a Vanity Fair photoshoot faces 20 years in jail after allegedly confessing to conspiring with enemies of Saudi Arabia.
Loujain Al-Hathloul, 28, is among nine women held during a brutal crackdown in May just as the desert kingdom was about to allow women to drive for the first time At the time campaigners were bidding to use the lifting of the driving ban as a springboard for further reforms such as ending Saudi Arabia’s restrictive male guardianship system and allowing more freedom of speech.
But instead they were rounded up, thrown in jail and now face charges of treason that carry the harshest prison sentence, or even the death penalty.
Kareem Chehayeb, Saudi Arabia researcher for Amnesty International, said: “The Saudi authorities don’t want any change to come from below. They want to stifle any form of dissent or human rights activism.
“It appears that the only reforms that are acceptable are those that are coming from above, which is absolutely outrageous.”
Al-Hathloul’s arrest came two years after she attended a One Young World humanitarian summit with the then Meghan Markle, Emma Watson, Cher as well as the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
In one picture Meghan was in a group of four posing by the water’s edge with Al-Hathloul, the poet Fatima Bhutto and former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson.
Writing about the summit at the time Meghan said: “One Young World invites young adults from all over the world who are actively working to transform the socio-political landscape by being the greater good.
“They are delegates who are speaking out against human rights violations, environmental crises, gender equality issues, discrimination and injustice. They are the change.”
In March al-Hathloul, who has 316,000 Twitter followers, was stopped by police as she drove near her university in Abu Dhabi and put on a plane back to Saudi Arabia where she was banned from leaving the country or using social media.
Despite not posting any more Tweets, she was among seven Saudis detained two months later, five women and two men who had supported their cause, including a lawyer who had represented al-Hathloul in the past.
Yesterday Amnesty International revealed the Riyadh authorities had claimed the detainees confessed on June 2 to communicating with Saudi Arabia’s enemies, and ‘providing financial and moral support to hostile elements abroad’.
Amnesty International expects them to be brought before the Specialised Criminal Court to face charges which amounted to treason, the penalty for which is 20 years in jail, or even the death sentence
Mr Chehayeb said: “They have been arrested purely based on their women’s rights activism and these are trumped up charges for which they could get 20 years in jail.
“We don’t know the conditions in which they are being kept, we don’t know if they have access to lawyers during these interrogations when they allegedly confessed to these crimes.
“With treason you cannot rule out the death penalty but we anticipate they will be given harsh prison sentences based on trumped-up security-related charges.”
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