'She feels like this hell won't end': Family pleads for release of jailed Saudi women's rights activist
TORONTO -- The sister of jailed women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is urging Western leaders to use the upcoming virtual G20 summit meeting to call for her sister’s release amid ongoing concerns for her health and safety.
Al-Hathloul, a Nobel peace prize nominee and University of British Columbia graduate who is known for her role in the women’s right to drive movement, has been in jail for more than two years without trial.
She and dozens of other prominent female activists are currently facing trial after being detained last year in a sweeping crackdown on dissent. They have accused their interrogators of torture, including electric shocks, flogging and groping in detention, a charge vigorously denied by the government.
Now, nearly a month into a hunger strike protesting a lack of regular contact with her parents, her family is increasingly concerned for her health and safety.
"She has never been so hopeless and weak, psychologically. She doesn't see the end of the tunnel anymore," her sister, Lina al-Hathloul, recently told reporters in Berlin. "She feels like this hell won't end."
With Saudi Arabia poised to host the virtual G20 summit, the activist’s family is calling on Western governments to take a stand and call for the release of women’s rights activists, with some calling for a boycott of the event.
“Dear G20 leaders, my activist sister @LoujainHathloul is in prison since May 2018 and on her 23rd day of hunger strike. Saudi Arabia refuses to give us any access to her,” her sister tweeted Thursday.
“Are you going to ask about her? Are you going to call on her release?”
Ironically, women’s empowerment is a key topic at the event, set to take place over the weekend.
“The Saudi G20 Presidency is strongly committed to keeping up the momentum built under previous G20 presidencies and make concrete progress to empower women and girls, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 5,” reads the agenda.
But the Saudi regime has been accused of “sportswashing,” hosting high-profile events like the ladies’ European golf tour as a way to distract from their human rights concerns.
CTV News attempted to contact the Saudi Embassy in London, U.K., regarding the allegations; however, those calls went unanswered.
The ambassador was recently quoted as saying that his country was considering clemency for the female activists ahead of the G20, a rare and surprising admission that the embassy later denied.
In August, it was reported that Saudi authorities had offered to release al-Hathloul in exchange for a video testimony denying that she had been tortured and sexually harassed in prison.
"The Saudi state security has visited my sister in prison recently. They have asked her to... appear on video to deny the torture and harassment," her brother Walid al-Hathloul, who is based in Canada, said on Twitter. "That was part of a deal to release her."
Those that know al-Hathloul say she has always been dedicated to activism.
"I asked her what she planned to do after she graduated and without missing a beat she said, 'I'm going back to Saudi Arabia to fight for the rights of women,'" UBC professor Sima Godfrey told CTV News.
Known for fiercely opposing the Saudi male guardianship, al-Hathloul was named one of Time magazine's “100 Most Influential People of 2019.”