Saudi activist sentenced to 11 years for supporting women’s rights

Manahel-al-Otaibi was arrested in November 2022 on charges related to her choice of clothing and her calls on social media for an end to the male guardianship system.

Riyadh: A Saudi women’s rights activist was sentenced to 11 years in prison because of her “choice of clothing and support for women’s rights,” two rights groups said, urging the kingdom to “immediately and unconditionally release” her.

In January, the counter-terrorism Specialised Criminal Court convicted Manahel al-Otaibi, more than a year after she was arrested, Amnesty International and the British-based ALQST group said.

The Saudi government confirmed al-Otaibi was found guilty of “terrorist offences,” in its formal reply to a request for information by UN special rapporteurs.

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The two rights groups said in their statement that al-Otaibi’s charges related to her choice of clothing and her calls on social media for an end to the male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions. Some rules have been eased, but the system is yet to be removed.

After her arrest in November 2022, al-Otaibi was subjected to physical and psychological abuse at the prison in Riyadh.

Last year, she forcibly disappeared for five months until April, when she contacted her family and said she was being held in solitary confinement, had a broken leg as a result of physical abuse and was denied health care, the rights groups said.

Since becoming crown prince in 2017, Mohammed bin Salman has championed economic and social reforms in the conservative kingdom. However, the kingdom continues to crack down on critics and rights activists.

Bissan Fakih, Amnesty International’s campaigner in Saudi Arabia, said the sentence “is an appalling and cruel injustice.”

“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,” said Fakih.


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