RIYADH (The Guardian) – Supporters of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who campaigned for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia, called for a boycott of the Dakar Rally for "sportswashing” the reputation of the conservative kingdom while Hathloul remains in prison.
Racers in the off-road competition – including 12 women – are due to pass within a few hundred meters of Riyadh’s Al-Ha’ir prison, where Hathloul is being held, The Guardian reported.
"Women’s rights activists have endured years in prison, psychological and physical torture, and sexual abuse for campaigning for the right to drive. Many remain in prison to this day,” said Lucy Rae, spokeswoman for Grant Liberty, a human rights advocacy body which campaigns on behalf of Saudi prisoners of conscience.
"It is utterly grotesque that at the same time Saudi authorities will host a motor sport event – including women drivers – while the heroes that won their right to drive languish in jail,” she added.
Amaury Sport Organization, which runs the rally, did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
Hathloul, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent activists, was kidnapped and detained in 2018. She was jailed last month for five years and eight months in prison after ‘being found guilty’ of spying and conspiring against the kingdom.
Two years and 10 months of the sentence were suspended by the court and the start of the jail term was backdated, meaning the 31-year-old has only two months left to serve, a move decision makers in Riyadh hope will defuse a potentially damaging early confrontation with the Joe Biden administration.
Campaigners nonetheless described the sentencing as "shameful”, pointing out that Hathloul was held for almost three years without charge. The activist’s parents, who are her legal team, say their daughter has been subjected to torture and sexual assault during incarceration and held incommunicado for long periods of time.