Saudi Arabia approves measure to criminalise sexual harassment as activists remain imprisoned

Posted June 02, 2018

Opening up job opportunities to women without university qualifications (very much welcomed by families on lower incomes) and identifying ways to provide good vocational training to the youth of the country (70% plus of the population is under the age of 35) are initiatives to be welcomed, and are created to both bring the kingdom into the 21st century and broaden its very narrow economic base. The sentence could be increased to five years' of imprisonment and a fine around $80,000 in certain cases.

Individuals convicted of assisting someone else with harassment will also be punished under the new legislation. "It fills a large legislative vacuum, and it is a deterrent system when compared with a number of similar laws in other countries".

The United Nations called on Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to provide information about women's rights activists arrested ahead of the lifting of a ban on women driving that is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's reform programme.

The Shura Council, which acts as the conservative kingdom's formal consultative body and advises the cabinet, approved the anti-harassment law drafted by the Interior Ministry on King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud's instructions, according to the BBC.

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Last year's decision to end the ban on women driving cars, set to take effect on 24 June, has been hailed as proof of a progressive trend in the kingdom.

But earlier this month, authorities arrested almost a dozen women's rights campaigners who had previously agitated for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system.

The sexual harassment legislation requires a royal decree to become law. "Taking disciplinary measures against those who harass women, and even men, will definitely lower the harassment rate and hopefully put an end to it all together".

Among those still detained are Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Mohammed al-Rabea, and Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh.

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Human rights groups questioned MBS's reform agenda earlier this month following the latest arrests.

The UN human rights office said the government should ensure the women and other campaigners in custody have due process.

Human Rights Watch voiced concern on Wednesday over the "vague charges" the activists are facing, adding that numerous country's activists have disappeared from the activism sphere following the arrests. "We call on the authorities to release all human rights activists immediately".

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