Family of jailed Saudi activist implores Canada to call out kingdom's human rights record at G20 | CBC News

 cbc.ca  11/22/2020 16:52:31   Michelle Ghoussoub � CBC News � Posted: Nov

The family of a women's rights activist who has been jailed in Saudi Arabia for more thantwo years is calling on the federal government to hold the kingdom to account forits human rights record as it hosts the G20 summit inRiyadh.

Loujain Alhathloul, 31, a graduate of the University of British Columbia and internationally recognized activist born in Saudi Arabia, has beendetained since May 2018, when she was arrested along with nine other women's rights activists. She is currently believed to be on a hunger strike. Before her arrest in 2018, she was detained in 2014 for 70 days before being released.

Saudi Arabia is hostinga virtual version of the G20 summit on Saturday and Sunday, where leaders of the world's biggest economies are expected to addressfair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and financial aid to the world's hardest-hit countries.

Alhathloul's brother,WalidAlhathloul, speaking from Toronto, said he hoped Canada would use the summitwidely seen as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to earn legitimacy on the world stageto call out the kingdom's human rights violations, including the detention of women's rights activists and thee murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"I understand the concern of the federal government in that it's a very sensitive situation giventhe relationship between Saudi and Canada," he said.

"But really there is no downside for Canada to stand for human rights [at]the G20."

Walid said his family last heard from his sister three weeks agoand that she said she planned tostartanother hunger strike.

"Since then we haven't heard anything from her. 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  who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident but lived in Canada for five years as a student  had previouslytold her family that she'd been held in solitary confinement and sufferedelectrocution, floggingand sexual assaultduring her detention.

Alhathloul, who had an international profile prior to her detention, wasfirst accused of attempting to destabilize the Saudi kingdom.Since then, thosecharges have been changed tocommunicating with foreign journalists and attempting to apply for a job at the United Nations.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasindefinitely postponedher trial and disrupted her usual communications with her family.

With so many international eyes on Saudi Arabia, the G20 summit has renewed an ongoing campaign for her freedom. Amnesty International raised the issue in a full-page ad in the Financial Times, and Alhathloul'sphoto was projected onto the Louvre Museum in Paris by Human Rights Watch.

Since her detention she has received a number of human rightsawards and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But despite the campaigning, there has been little movement and, recently, some confusion surrounding her case.

Earlier this month,Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, told the Guardian newspaper that the kingdom was considering clemency for her as a result ofgrowing pressure over its human rights record ahead of the G20 only for the embassy to deny that report days later.

"I was skepticalbecause we have experienced that previously," said Walid Alhathloul. But he said he hopes a U.S. administration under president-elect Joe Bidencould bring change to his sister's case.Biden has previously pledged to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" over its human rights failings.

"I really hope the president-elect is able to keep his word because the situation in Saudi in terms of human rights is really deteriorating," Alhathloul's brother said.

CBCNews has reached out to Global Affairs Canada and the Saudi Embassy for comment.

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