Saudi Harassment Measure Adds to String of Reforms

The aims of the measure are "fighting the crime of harassment, preventing it, punishing perpetrators and protecting victims in order to preserve the privacy, dignity and individual freedoms as guaranteed by Islamic jurisprudence and regulations in place". If the crime is repeated, the prison sentence can be extended to five years while the fine can be increased to $80,000. "Driving, although probably the main reason for it, is not the only one", Shoura member Hoda Al-Helaissi told Arab News.

The legislation, which awaits an expected royal decree to become law, is the latest in a series of reforms that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has initiated in a bid to modernise the kingdom. "It fills a large legislative vacuum, and it is a deterrent". Not too long ago, a controversial Saudi preacher set off a social media firestorm after sharing a thread of tweets that suggested "women instigate men to rape and assault them".

Punishments for convicted harassers start with fines of 100,000 riyals (about $26,600) and up to two years in jail. "Not only for women, but for all genders of different ages and in different situations", she said.

It is shocking that Saudi Arabia is detaining prominent women's rights defenders - the real champions behind the lifting of the driving ban - behind bars just before they allow all women the right to drive.

She had proposed a number of additional articles on the law on the protection of witnesses and of the identity of those who report harassment, the provision of social and psychological support to the victims of harassment, and raising awareness of the provisions of the law.

Almost a dozen prominent activists, mostly women who for years urged reforms that are now being implemented, were arrested this month, drawing a rare expression of concern from the United Nations human rights office on Tuesday.

It added, "If, as it appears, their detention is related exclusively to their work as human rights defenders and activists on women's issues, they should be released immediately".

However, your editorial (The kingdom's rulers say they are advancing women by locking them up, 22 May) misses an opportunity to encourage a more liberal approach by Saudi Arabia.

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a Middle East expert with the global advocacy group Equality Now, said the draft law was a "welcome step", but expressed concern over the recent crackdown on women's rights campaigners.

  • Joey Payne