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Who Is Loujain Al-Hathloul? New Details About Meghan Markle's Friend Who's Being Tortured In Saudi Prison

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Who Is Loujain al-Hathloul? New Details About Meghan Markle's Friend Who's Being Tortured In Saudi Prison

While women have come a long way in gaining equal rights — closing the pay gay, promoting awareness about domestic violence, and having a say over their own bodies — in Saudi Arabia, there’s a different tune. In just a little over ten years, Saudi Arabia ended forced marriages, and allowed their female athletes to compete in the Olympics, and let women drive and vote.

Women are still not considered equal in this country, and many have begun to defy these oppressive laws. Such is the case with Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist and social media figure. Since May 2018, she has been detained in her home country after attempts to allegedly “destabilize the kingdom.”

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But who is Loujain al-Hathloul? She’s certainly not just a political prisoner. Here are six things to know about this humanitarian, her work, and the truly awful position she is in.

1. She’s educated.


A post shared by Amnesty International (@amnestydeutschland) on Feb 1, 2019 at 7:13am PST

al-Hathloul is a graduate of the University of British Columbia. Before being arrested, she had enrolled in a master’s degree program in applied sociological research at Sorbonne University’s Abu Dhabi campus.

2. She’s one of the most outspoken women’s rights activists in SA.

She has been an opponent of the Saudi male guardianship system and in 2016, signed a petition, along with 14,000 others, to King Salman asking for the system to be abolished. The system requires every woman to have a male relative, usually a father or husband, and their “approval” is needed to do what we consider normal: travel, marry, and get a passport.

She’s also been vocal in the Women to Drive movement, which aimed to give women the right to drive on public roads. In 2015, she was ranked third in the list of Top 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2015.

3. She has a lengthy arrest record.


A post shared by eShe (@esheworld) on Sep 22, 2018 at 1:02am PDT

Over the last few years, al-Hathloul has been arrested multiple times, including defying the ban on women driving, attempting to “destabilize the kingdom,” and trying to cross over the border in her car from UAE to SA. In June 2017, she was detained at the King Fahad International Airport, though no reason was ever given for her arrest.

In May 2018, she was detained again, along with other women’s rights activists. According to Human Rights Watch, the arrests were to scare “anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda.” As of December 2018, she remains detained at the Dhahban Central Prison, and has not been allowed access to a lawyer or been able to contact her family.

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4. She’s been subjected to brutal torture.

Though torture violates Saudi Arabia’s obligations under international law, reports have revealed that al-Hathloul and other women detained have been victims of torture. They have been given electric shocks, whipped, beaten, waterboarded, and threatened with rape.

In a piece written by her sister, Alia al-Hathloul, she says that her parents visited, noting her sister’s “thighs were blackened by bruises” and that she “was shaking uncontrollably, unable to hold her grip, to walk or sit normally.” Alia also claimed that Saud al-Qahtani, a Saudi royal court advisor who reportedly oversaw the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, visited al-Hathloul during the torture to laugh at her, threaten her with rape, and tortured her “all night during Ramadan.”

Another piece written by her brother, Walid al-Hathloul, says that al-Qahtani is overseeing the torture sessions. His sister described being taken from jail and moved to a “hotel,” which she called a “palace of terror.” The torture sessions occur normally in the basement of the facility.

5. She was married.


A post shared by (@loujainhathloul) on Aug 30, 2017 at 7:22am PDT

In 2014, al-Hathloul married Saudi stand-up comedian, Fahad Albutairi. But in 2018, he was arrested in Jordan and reportedly “handcuffed, blindfolded and put onto a plane for Saudi Arabia.” They are now divorced, though many speculate that it was a forced divorce or that Albutairi was pressured into it by the regime.

6. She’s a friend of Meghan Markle.

In 2016, she attended a One Young World humanitarian summit alongside Markle, Cher, Justin Trudeau, and Emma Watson. Before Markle married Prince Harry, she was an activist for gender equality and humanitarian issues. So far, Markle has not commented on her friend’s detainment.

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Samantha Maffucci is an associate editor for YourTango who focuses on writing trending news and entertainment pieces. In her free time, you can find her obsessing about cats, wine, and all things Vanderpump Rules.