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Saudi woman sentenced to 11 years for her choice of clothing

Human rights organizations are demanding the immediate release of Manahel al-Otaibi, a Saudi woman, who has reportedly been sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Handed down during a clandestine hearing at Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court on January 9, 2024, this sentence has raised concerns over her alleged support for women’s rights and her manner of dress.

The decision to imprison al-Otaibi was brought to light weeks later following a United Nations inquiry into her case.

The Saudi government responded to this inquiry, stating that al-Otaibi stands accused of terrorist offenses and was arrested lawfully under a valid warrant.

However, human rights groups such as Amnesty International and ALQST assert that al-Otaibi’s charges stem solely from her clothing choices and expression of her views online, including advocating for an end to the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia.

Her sister, Fawzia al-Otaibi, faces similar charges but managed to flee the country after being summoned for questioning in 2022.

Calls for release

Calls for Manahel al-Otaibi’s release emphasize the contradiction between her imprisonment and Saudi Arabia’s purported narrative of reform and women’s empowerment.

Amnesty International has labeled her conviction and sentence as “appalling and cruel injustice,” highlighting the Saudi authorities’ apparent commitment to stifling peaceful dissent.

Al-Otaibi reportedly endured physical and psychological abuse while detained in Malaz Prison in Riyadh, including solitary confinement and a broken leg allegedly resulting from physical mistreatment.

Saudi Arabia has denied these allegations, asserting that no one is detained for exercising their rights and freedoms.

Despite some easing of restrictions on women under the male guardianship system, discriminatory practices persist, as evidenced by the 2022 Personal Status Law, which maintains restrictive elements regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance.

Al-Otaibi’s arrest in November 2022, despite her belief in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s promised reforms, underscores the ongoing crackdown on free speech in Saudi Arabia, particularly online expression.

Saudi courts have handed down lengthy prison terms to numerous individuals, including women, for their social media activity, signaling a broader pattern of repression.

Read More: Saudi Arabia cracks down on anti-Israel social media posts

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