'We're so relieved': UBC grad and prominent women's rights activist released from prison in Saudi Arabia
VANCOUVER -- She fought to give women in Saudi Arabia more freedoms, and now a former UBC student has regained some of her own.
Loujain al-Hathloul been released from prison in that country after being jailed more than two years ago.
Photos shared by one of her siblings online show her smiling, standing in front of a flowering tree, and beaming on a video call.
Atiya Jaffar is one of many people who have been campaigning for al-Hathloul’s release ever since her arrest in 2018. She met al-Hathloul while both were studying at UBC, and later joined with others to form the group “Friends of Loujain” to push for her freedom.
“We’re just so full of joy,” she said. “We’re so relieved.”
It’s a feeling shared by Emna Mizouni in Tunisia, another friend and member of the group.
“First thing I did, I was crying of joy,” she said. “We all know that Loujain is innocent, she’s not a criminal.”
The former UBC student strove for greater freedoms for women in Saudi Arabia, including the right to drive, which is now allowed.
Jaffar said that change happened shortly after al-Hathloul was arrested.
“That was all a result of Loujain’s advocacy, and the activism of other women across Saudi Arabia,” she said.
Late last year, she was sentenced under a vague counterterrorism law.
Mizouni said al-Hathloul is viewed as a role model and an inspiration.
“She is a voice of the voiceless, this is why she was arrested,” Mizouni said. “Not because she did something wrong, but she spoke the truth.”
Jackie Hansen with Amnesty International Canada said her release from prison is long overdue.
“Loujain never should have been imprisoned for her peaceful activism,” Hansen said. “She never should have been tortured.”
Al-Hathloul’s release is making headlines around the world. US President Joe Biden also commented on the news, saying: “She’s a powerful advocate for women’s rights and releasing her was the right thing to do.”
UBC’s president Santa Ono released a statement saying the university community is “relieved” by the news.
“Ms. al-Hathloul, who graduated from UBC in 2014, has dedicated her life to campaigning to advance women’s rights in her home country,” he said. “Our collective hope is she will one day be able to enjoy personal and political freedoms in her home country without the threat of persecution.”
Al-Hathloul’s friends said she is still banned from leaving Saudi Arabia for now, and therefore is not completely free.
“Her mobility is really restricted, she can’t travel, she’s going to be watched very closely by the state,” Jaffar said. “And of course, she’s convicted for terrorism, which is absolutely ridiculous.”
Supporters hope to keep her story in the spotlight until her freedom is complete.