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Judge Abdullah al-Luhaidan at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh convicted prominent women's rights defender Loujain Alhathloul of terrorism charges, because she opposed the male guardianship system and peacefully advocated for women's rights to drive and be protected from domestic violence.
"The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh is notorious for convicting peaceful dissidents and activists whom the Saudi regime views as a threat," said Abdullah Alaoudh, Gulf Director at DAWN. "Alhathloul's conviction shatters the Saudi government's claims to promote social reforms and gender equality."
On December 28, 2020, al-Luhaidan, together with fellow judges Mufarreh al-Jundub and Abdulaziz bin Dawood, convicted Loujain Alhathloul under the Counter-Terrorism Law of "attempting to change the Basic Law of Governance," "trying to serve a foreign agenda" and "using the Internet to disturb the public order," according to the official Saudi news service Sapq.
No evidence was presented, other than tweets and public appearances advocating for women to drive, her campaign against the male-guardianship system in the country, and her peaceful activism. The judges sentenced her to five years and eight months in prison and a five-year travel ban to start after her release. The court dismissed her complaint that Saudi officials tortured her during the period in which they disappeared her and held her in a secret prison.
Al-Luhaidan and the other two judges suspended half of Alhathloul's sentence (two years and ten months), and she was released on February 10, 2021.
Upon release, she was placed on probation for three years and can be arrested and ordered to complete her sentence if she "commits any crime," according to the family and the official Saudi news Sapq. In Saudi Arabia, the penal code is mostly unwritten, and the codes like the Counter-Terrorism Law or the Anti-Cybercrime Law are designed to crimilize free speech. A vaguely worded accusation by the Saudi prosecution can constitute a "crime".
Two days after convicting Alhathloul, al-Luhaidan convicted Yousef al-Ahmed, a conservative scholar who engaged in peaceful speech and activism, for allegedly inciting rebellion against the state and disturbing the peace of the community. Al-Luhaidan sentenced al-Ahmed to four years in prison and banned him from leaving the country for an additional four years.
In these judicial decisions, al-Luhaidan enforced prima facie unjust laws that criminalize dissent.
"Judges like al-Luhaidan are an integral part of the Saudi regime's destruction of independent civil society, " Alaoudh said. "His decision to convict Alhathloul shattered what was left of judicial independence."
Al-Luhaidan comes from a family in Qassim Province in the Central Region of Najd in Saudi Arabia that has a long tradition of serving in the Saudi judiciary. The longest-serving President of the Supreme Judicial Council (1992 until 2012) was Abdullah al-Luhaidan's cousin, Saleh al-Luhaidan. Since 1992, many male members of the al-Luhaidan family were appointed as judges, and some of them later achieved the highest ranks in the judiciary, including Khaled al-Luhaidan, the father of Abdullah al-Luhaidan. The Saudi authorities do not allow women to be judges. In October 2020, al-Luhaidan's father was appointed Chief Justice in the High Court, the highest judicial body in the land.
Before al-Luhaidan joined the Specialized Criminal Court, the Saudi authorities arrested at least six judges of the same court in October 2017 as part of a series of moves to restrict judicial independence. The authorities appointed al-Luhaidan and others as replacements.
See the case: Loujain Alhathloul
DAWN contacted al-Luhaidan via the Saudi authorities on March 23, 2021 to request a response, but no response was received by the time of publication.
About DAWN's culprit gallery:
Tyrants need enablers who will implement their oppressive practices, even if it means abusing their fellow citizens. These agents often mask their complicity in the guise of professionals exercising their duties in offices, courtrooms, police stations, and interrogation rooms.
DAWN seeks to disclose the identity of the state agents who enable repression and, to make them recognizable at home and abroad. These individuals, whom DAWN calls "culprits," bear administrative, civil, moral, legal, and/or political responsibility for human rights and international humanitarian law violations.