Saudi rights ac­tivist re­leased – with­out male guardian

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT

APROMINENT Saudi Ara­bian women’s rights ac­tivist has re­port­edly been freed from prison after spend­ing 104 days in de­ten­tion, with­out trial.

She was also re­leased with­out the pres­ence or per­mis­sion of her male guardian.

Mariam al-Otaibi was ar­rested in April after her fam­ily grew an­gry at her for protest­ing against the con­ser­va­tive king­dom’s laws, which mean many as­pects of women’s lives are con­trolled by their male rel­a­tives.

Ac­tivists in the coun­try and around the world cel­e­brated Otaibi’s re­lease on Sun­day, which was all the more re­mark­able be­cause her fa­ther was re­port­edly not in­volved in giv­ing per­mis­sion for her to leave de­ten­tion. While Otaibi did not im­me­di­ately re­turn The In­de­pen­dent’s calls, a new post from her Twit­ter ac­count thanked lawyers and sup­port­ers for stand­ing with her dur­ing her in­car­cer­a­tion. “Don’t let oth­ers tell you you can’t achieve, you can achieve what­ever you want to if you put your mind to it and be­lieve you can,” she said.

Women in Saudi Ara­bia face some of the great­est dis­crim­i­na­tion in the world: Travel, study, work and mar­riage must all be un­der­taken with the per­mis­sion of a male rel­a­tive. They also have far fewer le­gal rights and are pun­ished for crimes dif­fer­ently from men in ac­cor­dance with Saudi Ara­bia’s strict laws, based on in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Quaranic Sharia. Otaibi, who has a large fol­low­ing on so­cial me­dia was at the fore­front of this year’s #IAmMyOwnGuardian cam­paign, call­ing on King Sal­man and the gov­ern­ment to grant women greater au­ton­omy.

Ac­cord­ing to the Gulf Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights (GCHR), Otaibi’s brothers dis­ap­proved of her ac­tivism and she con­tacted the po­lice in their desert home­town of ar-Rass ac­cus­ing them of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. In re­turn, her fa­ther had her ar­rested on charges of disobe­di­ence which led to her in­car­cer­a­tion. She was later forced to drop the charges against her brothers to se­cure her own re­lease.

Just be­fore her ar­rest, Otaibi tweeted that she didn’t want to “go back to the hell” of her fam­ily. Women who break the law or flee abuse in Saudi Ara­bia are of­ten taken to so-called re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tres, where ac­tivists and rights groups re­port they face poor treat­ment and un­cer­tain de­ten­tion times at the hands of the au­thor­i­ties.

“This seems to be the first time a #Saudi woman is with­out a guardian,” Egyptian-Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Mona El­ta­hawy tweeted, call­ing Otaibi’s re­lease a “fem­i­nist vic­tory”.

While in re­cent years Saudi Ara­bian women have been granted more free­doms such as gain­ing the right to vote in 2011, there re­mains much work to be done.

King Sal­man, who ac­ceded to the throne in 2014, promised in April sev­eral con­ces­sions to the wali sys­tem, which are due to be im­ple­mented later this year, such as the right to ac­cess gov­ern­ment ser­vices with­out a male guardian’s con­sent.

The word­ing of the de­cree is vague and it is un­clear what the pro­posed re­forms will look like, rights group Equal­ity Now said.

“There ex­ists (in Saudi Ara­bia) a com­plex set of by-laws, with many re­stric­tions not clearly cod­i­fied. This leaves much open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion by those in au­thor­ity, such as the po­lice and judges, with some adopt­ing a more mod­ern ap­proach while oth­ers favour a fun­da­men­tal­ist ap­pli­ca­tion,” a state­ment said.

“There are no or­gan­i­sa­tions op­er­at­ing in­side Saudi Ara­bia to track the sit­u­a­tion, so the only way we’ll know what is hap­pen­ing on the ground is if women re­port that they are still being asked to pro­vide male con­sent.”

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