Loujian al-Hathloul led an ultimately successful push for women to be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia—but instead of praising her as a reformer, authorities prosecuted her using a court set up to fight terrorism. The "Specialized Criminal Court" has sentenced the 31-year-old to almost six years in prison, NPR reports. Relatives say three years of the sentence were suspended and she has already been in prison for more than two years, so she could be free within three months. According to state media, she was found guilty on charges including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda, and using the internet to harm public order. She was first arrested in 2014 for defying the ban on women driving.
Human rights groups strongly criticized the sentence, accusing the kingdom of using the anti-terror court as a tool to silence dissent. Al-Lathloul, one of Saudi Arabia's most prominent women's rights activists, was seized by security officers in the United Arab Emirates in 2018 and forced to return to the kingdom. Al-Lathloul and other detained female activists say they were sexually assaulted during their detention and tortured with electric shocks, whipping, and waterboarding. The sentence handed down Monday bans her from leaving the kingdom for five years. President-elect Biden has promised to review the US-Saudi relationship and reverse President Trump's approach of giving the kingdom "a blank check to pursue a disastrous set of policies," the AP reports. (Read more Saudi Arabia stories.)