Loujain Al-Hathloul is one of the most prominent Saudi activists and leaders of the Women to Drive Campaign. In 2013, a group of activists, including Loujain, decided to stage a protest drive in order to show their support for ending the ban on women driving. She filmed herself driving and tried to cross the border where was stopped and arrested and sent to prison for 73 days. Finally, in 2018, Saudi women are officially allowed to get behind the wheel, after a decades-old driving ban was lifted.
Loujain started a campaign to end “Wilayah” male guardianship system. In August 2020, Saudi women were allowed to travel abroad without obtaining permission from a male guardian, apply for passports and register their marriages and divorces.
In 2018 Al-Hathloul was detained and was charged under Article 6 of the Anti-Cybercrime law that penalises the production and transmission of material deemed to impinge on public order, religious values, public morals and life, as per UN Human Rights. According to Amnesty International, she was waterboarded, given electric shocks, was sexually harassed and was threatened with rape and murder during this time. After months of rigorous detention, her trial began in Riyadh in May 2019.
Though she has been released, she is on parole and cannot leave the country for the next five years.
The call from US
Loujain Al-Hathloul was released a week after the US called on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record and release all political prisoners and women’s rights activists. Before the elections Biden had promised stricter actions against Saudi Arabia, human rights being one of the key issues in US-Saudi relations.