Saudi Arabia: Protect don’t prosecute women’s rights activists

Printer-friendly version
Action Number: 
31.6
Date: 
18 Jun 2013
Update Date: 
18 Jul 2013
Update: 

6 NOVEMBER 2013 UPDATE: On 14 July 2013, Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Al-Oyouni filed their appeal with the appeals court. If the appeals court upholds the District Court's decision then the activists will be imprisoned while they prepare their final appeal. The appeals court has still not issued an official decision and Wajeha is still being pressured by the government not to participate in human rights advocacy such as the right to drive campaign on 26 October. Please continue to call on the Saudi authorities listed below to overturn the activists' prison sentences and travel ban.


view as pdf

On 15 June 2013, two women’s rights activists, Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Al-Oyouni, were convicted of the Islamic Sharia law offence of Takhbib, or incitement of a wife to defy the authority of her husband. They were charged because of their support of a Canadian woman and her children, who had allegedly been abused by the woman’s Saudi husband. While absolved of the charge of trying to help the woman and her children escape, Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Al-Oyouni were convicted of “supporting a wife without her husband’s knowledge, thereby undermining the marriage.” The District Court in Al-Khobar in Saudi Arabia sentenced them to 10 months in prison and banned them from leaving the country for two years following completion of their prison terms.

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

That Saudi authorities have punished those seeking to protect human rights, but appear to have done nothing to investigate the violence allegedly perpetrated by the husband is deeply disturbing and a breach of international law. It signifies that protecting his dominant and apparently violent position in the family is more important than ensuring his wife’s safety. According to reports, this is also the first time in Saudi legal history that a travel ban has been imposed in a case involving domestic issues. Saudi activists have questioned therefore whether the travel ban and the unwarranted prison terms are related to Wajeha Al-Huwaider’s and Fawzia Al-Oyouni’s long-term human rights work, which includes attempting to overturn the ban on women drivers, rather than to the alleged offense.

Under the male guardianship system of Saudi Arabia, women are vulnerable to a wide range of discrimination in both private and public life and have limited decision-making authority and freedom of movement. In December 2008, in an appearance before the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Saudi authorities stated that “there are no statutory requirements that necessitate guardianship or make a woman’s enjoyment of her rights conditional on approval” and that women in the Saudi Kingdom “conduct all their affairs in full independence.”  As the judgment against Waheja Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Al-Oyouni shows, however, this is clearly not the case. Male guardianship remains forcefully imposed by the legal system, despite being in breach of Saudi Arabia’s international obligations, including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Al-Oyouni are appealing their sentences. They have 30 days from sentencing in which to do so.

What You Can Do: 

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

Please join Equality Now in urgently calling for the overturning of the activists’ prison sentences and travel ban. Also, ask the Saudi authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally expunge all charges against them;
  • Institute, in consultation with women’s rights defenders, concrete measures to protect women at risk of and subjected to domestic violence;
  • End the male guardianship system to remove discrimination against women and girls, including in their access to justice, safety, education and employment, and the ability to make their own life choices; and
  • Protect and promote the right of human rights defenders to peacefully advocate for human rights.

Letters should go to:

His Majesty, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966-1-491-2726

H.E. Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul El Karim Abdul Azziz El Issa
Minister of Justice
University Street, Riyadh 11137
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966-1-401-1741

Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abulaziz
Minister of Interior
Fax: +966-1-1442-0057

With a copy to: The Human Rights Commission, Fax: +966 1 461 2061, Email: info@hrc.gov.sa

 

Letters: 

Dear King Abdullah, Minister:

I am writing to you about the conviction on 15 June 2013 of two women’s rights activists, Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Al-Oyouni, of the Islamic Sharia law offence of Takhbib, or incitement of a wife to defy the authority of her husband. They were charged after trying to give support to a woman and her children who were allegedly abused by the woman’s husband. While absolved of the charge of trying to help the woman and her children escape, they were nevertheless convicted of supporting a wife without her husband’s knowledge, thereby undermining the marriage. The District Court in Al-Khobar in Saudi Arabia sentenced them to 10 months in prison. In addition, the court banned them from leaving the country for two years following completion of their prison term.

The fact that the authorities have punished those seeking to protect human rights, but appear to have done nothing to investigate the violence allegedly perpetrated by the husband, is deeply disturbing and a breach of international law. It signifies that protecting his dominant and apparently violent position in the family is more important than ensuring his wife’s safety. I understand Saudi authorities have repeated in international meetings that the male guardianship system is not prescribed in law. However, this conviction seems to suggest otherwise.

I therefore urge you to immediately overturn the unwarranted sentences given to Wajeha Al-Hwaider and Fawzia Al-Qyouni by expunging all charges against them and removing the travel ban. I further encourage you to institute, in consultation with women’s rights defenders, concrete measures to protect women at risk of and subjected to domestic violence. Finally, please protect and promote the right of human rights defenders to peacefully advocate for human rights.

I respectfully call on you to put an end to the male guardianship system, which would remove discrimination against women and girls and allow them to fully realize their human rights. This would be in accordance with international standards, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women ratified by Saudi Arabia.

I thank you for your attention.

Sincerely yours,

Cc: The Human Rights Commission email: info@hrc.gov.sa