May 27, 2024

Saudi activist sentenced to 11 years in prison ‘over choice of clothing’

A Saudi women’s rights activist and fitness celebrity has been condemned to 11 years in prison for wearing inappropriate clothing, according to human rights organisations.

Manahel al-Otaibi was sentenced in January, but facts about her case only recently became public after Saudi Arabia responded to a formal UN human rights request.

In the letter, Saudi Arabia explained why the 29-year-old was arrested and charged. They said she was imprisoned for “terrorist offences,” but Amnesty International and Al Qst, a Saudi human rights organisation based in London, questioned that account. Human rights organisations worried that Ms Al-Otaibi was imprisoned because of her wardrobe choices and social media posts with the hashtag “abolish male guardianship”.

Ms Al-Otaibi wore what were deemed to be “indecent clothes” in videos and went shopping without an abaya, a long robe, the groups said. 

Saudi Arabia said that Ms. Al-Otaibi was “convicted of terrorist offences that have no bearing on her exercise of free opinion and expression or her social media posts.”

The United Nations has denounced Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism law, under which Ms Al-Otaibi was convicted, as an unduly broad tool for stifling dissent.

Amnesty International’s campaigner in Saudi Arabia, Bissan Fakih, stated, “Manahel’s conviction and 11-year sentence is an atrocious and brutal 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.”

Lina Alhathloul, Al Qst’s head of monitoring and advocacy, stated, “Manahel’s confidence in her ability to act freely could have been a positive advertisement for Mohammed bin Salman’s much-touted narrative of leading women’s rights reforms in the country.”

“Instead, by arresting her and now imposing this outrageous sentence on her, the Saudi authorities have once again laid bare the arbitrary and contradictory nature of their so-called reforms, and their continuing determination to control Saudi Arabia’s women.”

In its reply to the United Nations, Saudi Arabia refuted the claims made by human rights groups.

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