See this tall, friendly-looking guy above? His name is Walid al-Hathloul, and I have done a Q&A with him, here. Walid is from Saudi Arabia. He lives elsewhere now. His sister Loujain is a Saudi political prisoner. For several years, she has campaigned for women’s rights: the right to drive; the right to live independently, without male guardianship; the right to be free of domestic abuse. She was swept up in the crackdown on women’s-rights campaigners last year.
The charges against her? Contacting human-rights organizations. Contacting foreign journalists. Contacting foreign diplomats. Applying for a job at the United Nations. Etc. These things are evidently grave crimes in Saudi Arabia.
Note that Loujain al-Hathloul had no “need” to campaign for women’s rights, or human rights. She was fine, personally. Indeed, she was privileged. She was studying for a master’s in sociology at the Sorbonne. But she put everything on the line, to advance greater freedom in her country.
Of course, she has been tortured: electric-shocked, flogged, and so on. The torture has been overseen by Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. He told Loujain, “I will kill you and cut you into pieces, but before I do it, I will rape you.”
This is what Walid al-Hathloul told an audience at the Oslo Freedom Forum this week. It is consistent with what we have long known about the Saudi justice system, such as it is.
For eight months, Walid and his family kept silent. They thought it was the best strategy to pursue. They went through all the prescribed channels. They appealed to the right ministries. Then they discovered that Loujain was being tortured anyway, so they decided to speak out, to draw attention to this case, one of many in their home country.
What would you do? If you were Loujain’s brother or mom or dad, what would you do? For most of us, this is merely hypothetical, fortunately. Walid al-Hathloul never asked or wanted to be an activist. But here he is. He says that “Loujain” means “pearl,” and “my sister is a pearl to our family.”
Again, our discussion — brief and to the point — is here.