The family of a women’s rights activist imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for more than two years is calling on the federal government to call on the kingdom to account for its human rights record as it hosts the G20 summit in Riyadh.
Loujain Alhathloul, 31, a University of British Columbia graduate and internationally renowned activist born in Saudi Arabia, has been detained since May 2018, when she was arrested along with nine other women’s rights activists. She is reportedly currently on a hunger strike. Prior to her arrest in 2018, she was detained in 2014 for 70 days before being released.
Saudi Arabia is hosting a virtual version of the G20 summit on Saturday and Sunday, where leaders of the world’s largest economies are expected to address equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and financial assistance to the world’s hardest-hit countries.
Alhathloul’s brother Walid Alhathloul, speaking from Toronto, said he hoped Canada would use the summit – widely seen as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to gain legitimacy on the world stage – to speak out against the human rights violations in the kingdom, including the detention of women’s rights. activists and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“I understand the concern of the federal government as it is a very delicate situation given the relationship between Arabia and Canada,” he said.
“But really, there is nothing wrong with Canada standing up for human rights. [at] the G20. “
Walid said his family last heard from his sister three weeks ago and planned to start another hunger strike.
“We haven’t heard from her since. We don’t know what’s going on there. They didn’t allow us to contact her and they didn’t allow her to contact us as well,” did he declare.
Alhathloul – who is neither a Canadian citizen nor a permanent resident, but who lived in Canada for five years as a student – had previously told her family that she had been held in solitary confinement and suffered electrocution, whipping and sexual assault while in detention.
Alhathloul, who had an international profile before his detention, was initially accused of attempting to destabilize the Saudi kingdom. Since then, those charges have been amended to communicate with foreign journalists and attempt to apply for a job at the United Nations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has indefinitely postponed his trial and disrupted his usual communications with his family.
With so many international looks on Saudi Arabia, the G20 summit renewed an ongoing campaign for its freedom. Amnesty International raised the issue in a full-page TBEN ad, and the photo of Alhathloul was shown on the Louvre in Paris by Human Rights Watch.
Since her detention, she has received a number of human rights awards and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
But despite the campaign, there has been little movement and, recently, some confusion surrounding his case.
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UK, Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, told The Guardian newspaper the kingdom was considering leniency on him due to mounting pressure on its pre-G20 human rights record – only for the embassy to deny this report days later.
“I was skeptical because we have experienced it before,” said Walid Alhathloul. But he said he was hopeful that a US administration led by President-elect Joe Biden could make a change in his sister’s case. Biden has previously pledged to make Saudi Arabia an “outcast” over its human rights failures.
“I really hope that the president-elect will be able to keep his word because the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is really deteriorating,” Alhathloul’s brother said.
TBEN News has contacted Global Affairs Canada and the Saudi Embassy for their comment.