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Saudi Women’s Rights Activist Sentenced to 11 Years in Jail

Saudi women’s rights activist

A Saudi women’s rights activist, Manahel al-Otaibi, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for supporting women’s rights and the way she dressed. Human rights groups Amnesty International and ALQST provided this information. Al-Otaibi, a 29-year-old fitness instructor and activist, was sentenced during a “secret hearing” in Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court on January 9, 2024.

Here are some details of the incident according to the report of CNN International.

Charges Related to Clothing and Advocacy

Amnesty International and ALQST claim that the charges against Al-Otaibi are tied to her clothing choices and her online expressions of opinion. This includes advocating for an end to Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system and posting videos in “indecent clothes.” She is also accused of shopping without wearing an abaya. She was sentenced in a secret court proceeding, and the details only emerged weeks later.

Following her arrest, Al-Otaibi was reportedly subjected to physical and psychological abuse while in Malaz Prison in Riyadh. In April, she informed her family that she was in solitary confinement and had a broken leg from physical abuse. Amnesty International and ALQST called for her immediate release, stating that her treatment contradicted Saudi authorities’ narrative of reforms and women’s empowerment.

The Saudi government told the United Nations that Al-Otaibi’s detention was lawful and based on a valid warrant. They added that he faced charges related to terrorist offenses. The Saudi mission to Geneva asserted that no one is detained in Saudi Arabia for exercising their rights and freedoms. They emphasized that everyone is treated fairly, regardless of religion, race, sex, or nationality.

Broader Context of Crackdown on Free Speech

Al-Otaibi’s case is part of a broader crackdown on free speech in Saudi Arabia. Saudi courts have given long prison sentences to dozens of people for their social media activity over the last two years. Among them are many women who have faced harsh penalties for expressing their opinions online. The harsh sentences highlight the gap between Saudi leadership’s talk of reform and the reality on the ground.

Human rights organizations are urging the Saudi government to release Al-Otaibi. They are also calling for an end to the ongoing pattern of repression and discrimination against women and activists.

Read Also: Two Russian Journalists Arrested on ‘Extremism’ Charges, Accused of Working for Navalny Group

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