Activists say racers will keep Loujain al-Hathloul as the reputation of the kingdom’ sports-washes’ past prison.
Supporters of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who campaigned for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia, called for a Dakar Rally boycott because it “sports-washes” the image of the conservative kingdom while Hathloul remains in jail. Participants in the off-road race, including 12 women, will pass through Riyadh’s Al-Ha’ir Prison within a few hundred meters on Tuesday, where Hathloul is imprisoned. Women’s rights activists have been in jail for years, imprisoned and sexually assaulted mentally and physically for fighting for the right to drive.
Many are still in jail today,’ said Lucy Rae, spokeswoman for the human rights group Grant Liberty, which campaigns for Saudi prisoners of conscience. “It is absolutely grotesque that Saudi authorities are holding a motorsport event at the same time – where women are also racing – while the heroes who fought for their right to drive are languishing in prison. “Amaury Sport Association, which organizes the rally, did not respond immediately to email requests for comment. Hathloul, one of the most prominent female activists in Saudi Arabia, was a child activist.
Last month, after being found guilty of espionage and conspiracy against the kingdom, she was imprisoned for five years and eight months. The court suspended two years and 10 months of the sentence and the start date was backdated, meaning the 31-year-old has just two months left to serve, a development that policymakers in Riyadh hope would defuse a potentially damaging early conflict with the Bid Nonetheless, activists called the sentencing “shameful” and pointed out that Hathloul had been held for almost three years without charge. The parents of the activist, who are her legal team, say their daughter was subjected during her detention to torture and sexual harassment and held incommunicado for long periods.
The claims of mistreatment have been consistently refuted by the Saudi authorities. In 2008, following terrorist attacks in West Africa, the Paris-Dakar rally was relocated to South America.
As part of the kingdom’s multi-pronged strategy to open up to the world and wean itself off reliance on oil revenues by 2030, Saudi Arabia became host last year. After Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed heir to the throne four years ago, Riyadh has also embarked on a series of sweeping social reforms. The kingdom consistently denied that Hathloul had been arrested for promoting the driving of women, but for attempting to overthrow the royal family. The case underscores how little political opposition in the country is permitted. “No one should be misled by the efforts of the Saudi regime to launder sport….
It may not be known to the racers, but their presence helps to cover and whitewash the crimes of the host,’ said Lina al-Hathloul, the sister of Loujain. The PR machine argues that it is a sign that the nation is opening up to host global sporting events, but the truth is that my sister is in jail just a few hundred meters from the direction of promoting the right of women to drive.
True change, real human rights, not this charade, is what Saudi Arabia wants. In addition to Hathloul, three other activists, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Nouf Abdulaziz al-Jeraiwi, and Samar Badawi, who have campaigned for the right of Saudi women to drive, remain in custody.