UBC president joins calls for release of Vancouver women's rights activist detained in Saudi Arabia

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      More voices from Vancouver, including the president of UBC, are demanding the release of a local women's rights activist who was arrested in Saudi Arabia.

      Vancouver's Loujain Al-Hathloul was arrested in Saudi Arabia on May 15, along with nine other advocates during a crackdown on rights activism.

      The 28-year-old women's rights activist graduated from UBC with a degree in French in 2014.

      On May 29, three UBC professors launched an open letter, which was signed by over 90 UBC faculty members. The letter called upon UBC chancellor Lindsay Gordon, Ono, and the board of governors to publicly demand just treatment of Al-Hathloul.

      The letter cites a May 29 CBC News report that stated that a UBC spokeperson, in response to Al-Hathloul's case, declined to comment on actions by alumni that are unrelated to their time at UBC.

      The letter stated that the undersigned were "deeply troubled" by the university's response to the arrest of Al-Hathloul.

      "We as faculty members at UBC…expect and demand that UBC show more concern for the welfare of all members of the UBC community—and certainly those whose human rights are actively being violated."

      The letter also points out that UBC needs to live up to its endorsement of human rights in policies and statements.

      "When alumni lead in the effort to advance human rights around the world, we must actively support them," the letter states.  "Otherwise we cannot fulfil what our new strategic plan claims to be our university purpose—the advancement of global citizenship and justice around the world."

      On May 30, UBC president Santa J. Ono published an open letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.

      "As UBC’s president, I am deeply moved by alumni who so clearly and demonstrably reflect a commitment to justice and human rights within an environment where those actions come with significant threats to personal safety and security," he stated.

      Ono asked the Canadian government to pursue the immediate release of Al-Hathloul and the recognition of the rights of Saudi Arabian women.

      A rally was also held on May 30 in downtown Vancouver for the relase of Al-Hathloul and other women's rights activists.

      Al-Hathloul previously spent 73 days in jail in 2014 in Saudi Arabia for live-streaming her defiance of the kingdom's ban on women driving.

      The ban preventing women from driving is anticipated to end on June 24. However, Vogue Arabia is currently facing criticism for the cover for its June issue featuring a Saudi Arabian princess in the driver's seat of a car. 

      A spoof of the cover featuring Al-Hathloul's face Photoshopped on to Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah Al Saud is being circulated on social media.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook