Two Saudi women journalists sentenced to 10 months prison and two years travel ban

Saudi journalist and human rights defenders, Wajeha Al-Huwaider

On 15 June 2013 the District Court in Al-Khobar sentenced two human rights campaigners, journalists Wajeha Al-Huwaider and journalist Fawzia Al-Oyouni who campaign for women’s human rights, to ten months in prison, following a trial that lasted a year.

{jcomments on} The presiding judge, Fahad Al-Gda’a, also imposed a two year travel ban on both human rights activists, taking effect after the completion of the ten month sentence.

Saudi writer and human rights activist  Fawzia Al-Oyouni

The two women were  charged of trying to sabotage the marital relationship between a Canadian woman and her Saudi husband, residing in Dammam, and abetting the woman to escape. The judge acquitted the women of the other charges of attempting to smuggle the wife and her three children to the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh.

On 7 June 2011, the two human rights activists received text messages saying that the Canadian wifeNathalie Morin and her three children are being subjected to violence and that the Canadian woman is locked in the house. The text messages also said that the children were starved. The two human rights campaigners bought some food and took it to the family house, to find that the husband had locked his wife and children in after seizing his wife’s mobile phone after finding that she used it to text the cry for help message. When the police arrived they arrested Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni on charges of trying to smuggle the woman and her three children to the Canadian embassy.

Canadian mother Nathalie Morin and her Children

Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni declared in a statement issued on the same day, 15 June 2013: “It was clear to us from the very beginning when we were summoned to the investigation by the prosecutor in Dammam that the issue was malicious and those who filed this case against us are from concerned authorities that aim to harm and harass us to stop our humanitarian activities, because since the night of the incident, two years ago, the case has been revoked by an order issued by the Amir of the Eastern region and the file was closed”

“Finally we will object and appeal at the Court of Appeal.” They added.

Iqbal Tamimi, Director of Arab Women Media Watch Centre in UK condemned targeting Saudi women journalists and writers campaigning for human rights in their own country, such as al-Howeidar and Al-Oyouni besides many others. She explains that Wajeha al-Howeidar began writing opinion articles tackling women’s rights, gender discrimination and other social ills in Saudi society many years ago, until in 2003 Saudi newspapers suddenly stopped publishing her articles. Al-Howeider claimed, editors of Al-Watan newspaper and Arab News told her they received faxes from the Information Ministry instructing them to stop publishing her work. She claimed the ban was triggered, by a May 2003 article she wrote, in which she highlighted the case of an abused Saudi teenager who took photos of his bruises with the intention of suing his father for physical cruelty, where his father gone unpunished.

Tamimi calls for ‘an immediate stop of such acts of intimidation against fellow campaigning journalists and writers who are only trying to improve the lives of other vulnerable individuals and highlight the need for reforming the society’.

Tamimi pointed out that ‘the mentioned incident highlights some of the difficulties that might face foreign women who are married to Saudi men and know very little about the traditions and regulations, since a woman can’t go any where in Saudi Arabia or travel to escape domestic violence without the consent of her guardian (the husband) who happens to be the abuser in most cases, making things even more difficult to seek help from the authorities 

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) claims ‘the two women human rights campaigners have been targeted with fabricated charges that lack evidence solely due to their long, ongoing defence of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and for their active participation in the women’s rights campaign ‘my country’ in addition to their demand of women’s right to drive a car.  

The GCHR called on the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against Wajeha Al-Huwaider, and Fawzia Al-Oyouni  immediately and unconditionally and quash the prison sentences against them; remove the travel ban imposed on them; reconsider the legal codifications of “Takhbib” or inciting women against their husbands, as this practice is judged without safe or protective legal measures and would mean women, human rights campaigners will be liable if they attempt to help women experiencing domestic violence and guarantee that all human rights activists in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fearing reprisals and restrictions, including judicial harassment.

The Canadian lady issued an on-line statement explaining that the two Saudi journalists are innocent of what they were accused of and that they did not know her previously or incited her against her husband as a number of websites such as Sabq, Alkuwaitiah and An7a have claimed.

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