Statement On Imprisonment Of Loujain al-Hathloul

. . . Congressional Record

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, I’ve spoken repeatedly about the unlawful imprisonment and abuse of human rights activists by the Saudi government, which continue despite promises of reform by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  In fact, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the botched cover-up and sham investigation, and the ongoing, systematic repression of Saudi activists have only served to confirm what we already knew, which is that the Crown Prince is no reformer, but instead a ruthless autocrat intimidated by non-violent dissent from his own people.

One such activist being unlawfully detained by the Saudi royal family – which for all intents and purposes is the government – is Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent and outspoken women’s rights defender known for her activism against the women’s driving ban and the male guardianship system.  In 2014, Ms. al-Hathloul, who had a driver’s license from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), was detained for 73 days after attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the UAE.

She was arrested again in May 2018 along with several other women’s rights activists, weeks before the Saudi government lifted the ban on female drivers.  She was detained and forcibly deported via private Saudi jet from the UAE and remains in a Saudi prison today.  According to Ms. al-Hathloul’s family and several human rights organizations, she has been tortured, sexually harassed, and threatened with rape and murder by Saudi officials.

For the first ten months of her detention, Ms. al-Hathloul was held without charges or trial, and for the first three months, without access to her family or lawyer.  In her first trial session on March 13, 2019, she was charged with promoting women’s rights; calling for an end to the male guardianship system; and contacting international organizations, foreign media, and other activists.  It is hard to believe that in the year 2020, advocacy that has been protected under international law for nearly half a century is grounds for imprisonment and prosecution in Saudi Arabia, a country whose leaders enjoy the best of what oil revenues can buy while subjecting their critics to treatment reminiscent of the 1800s.

Imprisoned, tortured, and charged with multiple “crimes”, Ms. al-Hathloul’s last court appearance was on April 3, 2019, more than 250 days ago.  She remains in prison without any information regarding when her next court session will take place.  The right of due process simply does not exist in Saudi Arabia.

This is typical of how Saudi Arabia treats those who dare to exercise their rights to free expression, association, and assembly.  We should all be outraged, and in fact Republicans and Democrats in Congress as well as dozens of foreign governments have called for Ms. al-Hathloul’s release and the release of others facing politically-motivated charges in Saudi Arabia. Until there are consequences for these violations of human rights and misuse of the judicial process, nothing will change.     

Fortunately, our hands are not tied.  The United States can do more than simply call for Ms. al-Hathloul’s release.  Section 7031(c) of division G of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, which applies to all foreign countries, states that “[o]fficials of foreign governments and their immediate family members about whom the Secretary of State has credible information have been involved, directly or indirectly, in…a gross violation of human rights shall be ineligible for entry into the United States.” 

Secretary of State Pompeo unquestionably has such information.  Ms. al-Hathloul’s prolonged, arbitrary detention and abuse in custody are gross violations of human rights. Secretary Pompeo should apply section 7031(c) and immediately impose visa restrictions on all Saudi government officials involved, directly or indirectly, in her detention and abuse.  That is our law.

It is as ironic as it is unconscionable that the Crown Prince has been praised for ending the ban on a woman’s ability to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, at the same time that his government is unjustly and cruelly imprisoning a courageous woman for advocating for that very right.  The Trump Administration should apply the law as required in this case. 

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