Saudi woman jailed for 11 years over rights posts, Amnesty says

Saudi woman jailed for 11 years over rights posts, Amnesty says

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DUBAI (Reuters) – Amnesty International called on Saudi Arabia to free a 29-year-old fitness instructor it says has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for her choice of clothing and social media posts urging an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system.

Manahel Al-Otaibi was sentenced in January and details of her case emerged in Saudi Arabia’s formal reply to a request from the United Nations human rights office, London-based Amnesty said in a statement on Tuesday.

Amnesty and the London-based Al-Qst, a Saudi group that focuses on human rights in the kingdom, said Al-Otaibi was charged for posting the social media hashtag “Abolish male guardianship” and videos of her wearing what were deemed to be “indecent clothes” and shopping without an abaya, a long robe.

Saudi Arabia’s international media office did not respond to Reuters’ questions about the information given by Amnesty.

Saudi Arabia, in its formal reply to the U.N. rights office, denied that Al-Otaibi was sentenced for social media posts. It said she was “convicted of terrorist offences that have no bearing on her exercise of freedom of opinion and expression or her social media posts”.

The Saudi response, seen by Reuters, did not provide further details.

Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism law, under which Al-Otaibi was convicted, has been criticised by the United Nations as an overly broad tool to stifle dissent.

The U.N. human rights office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment or to confirm the details of this case.

Amnesty said Al-Otaibi’s sister, Fawzia, faced similar charges but fled Saudi Arabia after being summoned for questioning in 2022.

“With this sentence the Saudi authorities have exposed the hollowness of their much-touted women’s rights reforms in recent years and demonstrated their chilling commitment to silencing peaceful dissent,” Bissan Fakih, Amnesty’s campaigner on Saudi Arabia, said in the statement.

The de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, came to power in 2017 promising sweeping social and economic reforms, and he eased some curbs in male guardianship laws.

Saudi women have since been able to drive cars, get a passport and travel on their own, register births and deaths, and divorce. The laws, however, still make it more difficult for women to obtain a divorce than a man.

The kingdom still faces scrutiny over its human rights record including a 2022 personal status law that codified many aspects of male guardianship, including male custody over children and permission for a woman to marry. Some provisions could facilitate domestic abuse, according to Amnesty.

Saudi Arabia eased dress codes for foreign women in 2019, but rights activists say that Saudi women continue to face restrictions.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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