Saudi Arabia has charged a women’s rights activist detained since November over her social media posts with launching a “propaganda campaign”, according to court documents seen by AFP on Wednesday.
Manahel al-Otaibi was arrested for social media posts challenging the country’s male guardianship laws and requirements for women to wear the customary body-shrouding abaya.
Public prosecutors accused her of leading a “campaign to incite Saudi girls to denounce religious principles and rebel against the customs and traditions of Saudi society,” according to the documents.
She appeared in front of judges in January and was then referred to the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) which was established in 2008 to handle terrorism-related cases but has been widely used to try political dissidents and human rights activists.
Otaibi has not yet been convicted or sentenced and no date has been announced for her hearing which could result in a lengthy prison sentence.
Otaibi’s sister — Fouz — who has left Saudi Arabia, was hit with similar charges and risks imprisonment if she returns to the kingdom.
Speaking to AFP, Fouz criticised authorities for “targeting influential women demanding women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.”
“There is a contradiction… as if there are two states,” she told AFP. “A state with Vision 2030, and a state that still applies the old strict rules.”
Vision 2030 is the kingdom’s economic and social reform agenda which has, in the last seven years, led to dramatic changes in the deeply conservative kingdom, including women’s right to drive and the promotion of sports for women.
Still, Saudi Arabia is often criticised for not tolerating dissent and has been in the spotlight in recent months for decades-long prison sentences handed down to two women who tweeted and retweeted posts critical of the government.
London-based rights group ALQST denounced the charges against the al-Otaibi sisters as “yet another example of Saudi Arabia’s empty promises when it comes to reforms”.
“Saudi women still get imprisoned and face sham trials for demanding their rights,” said Lina al-Hathloul, ALQST’s head of monitoring and communications.
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