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Saudi activist awarded top European human rights prize

The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize is awarded by the PACE to figures who actively defend human rights in civil society

The Saudi Arabian women's rights activist Loujain Al-Hathloul has been awarded a top European human rights prize, only two months after her release from prison in her homeland.

The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize is named after the famed Czech dissident and later president. It is awarded by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on an annual basis to figures who actively defend human rights in civil society.

According to a statement released by PACE, Hathloul "is one of the leaders of the Saudi feminist movement, having campaigned to end the male guardianship system, as well as the Saudi ban on women driving, and for greater protection for women facing abuse in the kingdom."

Despite Saudi Arabia's claims to have improved women's rights — women can now drive cars — Hathloul was arrested and detained in May 2018 along with other activists.

READ: Saudi's women empowerment drive is 'a lie', says family of released activist

After over two years in detention and numerous reports of torture and sexual abuse throughout her ordeal, she was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison after being charged with terrorism-related offences in December last year. Due to a partially suspended sentence and time already served, however, she was released by the Saudi authorities in February.

As part of her early release conditions, Hathloul is on probation and is forbidden to leave the country for a period of five years. She lost an appeal against her sentence and restrictions last month.

In an online ceremony yesterday, the activist's sister Lina Al-Hathloul accepted the award and the €60,000 ($72,000) that comes with it on her behalf. "International support is the only way we can expose the injustices in my country and protect the victims," she said.

OPINION: How many Loujain Al-Hathlouls are there in the Arab world?

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