Family of jailed Saudi activist pleads with Canada to denounce kingdom’s human rights record at G20

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The family of a women’s rights activist imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for more than two years is calling on the federal government to call on the kingdom to account for its human rights record as it hosts the G20 summit in Riyadh.Loujain Alhathloul, a University of British Columbia graduate and internationally renowned activist, has been detained since May 2018, when she was arrested along with nine other women’s rights activists. She is reportedly currently on a hunger strike.

Saudi Arabia is currently hosting a virtual version of the two-day Group of 20 summit on Saturday and Sunday, where leaders of the world’s largest economies are expected to address the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and financial assistance to countries most hard hit.

Alhathloul’s brother Walid Alhathloul, speaking from Toronto, said he hoped Canada would use the summit – widely seen as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to gain legitimacy on the world stage – to speak out against the human rights abuses in the kingdom, including the detention of women’s rights activists. and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“I understand the federal government’s concern as it is a very delicate situation given the relationship between Arabia and Canada,” he said.

“But in reality, there is nothing wrong with Canada defending human rights [at] the G20. ”

Alhathloul said her family last heard from her sister three weeks ago and planned to start another hunger strike.

“We haven’t heard from her since. We are not aware of what is going on there. They did not allow us to contact her and they did not allow her to contact us as well, ”he said.

Alhathloul had previously told her family that she had been held in solitary confinement and suffered electric shocks, lashes and sexual assault while in detention.

Alhathloul, who had an international profile before his detention, was initially accused of trying to destabilize the kingdom. Since then, those charges have been amended to contact foreign journalists and attempt to apply for a job at the United Nations. The COVID-19 pandemic has indefinitely postponed his trial and interrupted his usual communications with his family.

With so many international looks on Saudi Arabia, the G20 summit renewed an ongoing campaign for its freedom. Amnesty International ran a full-page ad raising the issue in the Financial Times, and the photo of Alhathloul was shown in the Louvre by Human Rights Watch. Since her detention, she has received a number of human rights awards and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But despite the campaign, there has been little movement and, recently, confusion around his case.

Earlier in November, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UK, Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, told The Guardian newspaper that the kingdom was considering leniency on him due to growing pressure on his human rights record before the G20 – only the embassy to deny this report a few days later.

“I was skeptical because we have experienced it before,” said Walid Alhathloul. But he said he was hopeful that a US administration led by President-elect Joe Biden could make a change in his sister’s case. Biden has previously pledged to make Saudi Arabia an “outcast” over its human rights failures.

“I really hope that the president-elect can keep his word because the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is really deteriorating,” Alhathloul said.

CBC has contacted Global Affairs and the Saudi Embassy for comment.

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