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Saudi Arabia- Two women human rights defenders sentenced to 10 months in prison and a two year travel ban

2013-06-16

On 15 June 2013 the District Court in Al-Khobar sentenced two human rights defenders, Wajeha Al-Huwaider, and Fawzia Al-Oyouni to ten months in prison, following a trial that lasted a year. The presiding judge Fahad Al-Gda'a also imposed a two year travel ban on both human rights defenders to take effect after the completion of the ten month sentence.

The judge sentenced the two women on charges of trying to sabotage the marital relationship between a Canadian wife and her Saudi husband, resident in Dammam, and abetting her to escape. He 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 defenders received a text message saying that the Canadian wife and her three children were being subjected to violence and that her husband had locked them in the house. The text message also said that the children were starving of hunger. The two human rights defenders brought some food to the house and discovered that the husband had trapped them after he seized the mobile handset from which his wife had sent the text message. When the police arrived they arrested Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni on charges of trying to smuggle the wife and her three 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 moved this case against us from the concerned authorities wanted to harm and harass us, and stop our humanitarian activities, because that case since the night in which it occurred two years ago, had been revoked by order of the Amir of the Eastern region and closed the file "

They added: "Finally we will appeal this judgment at the Court of Appeal, and we will raise our objection to it."

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights believes that the two human rights defenders have been targeted with fabricated charges that lack proper evidence solely due to their long, ongoing defence of women's rights in the country and their demand of the right of women to drive a car.  

The GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to: 

1.Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Wajeha Al-Huwaider, and Fawzia Al-Oyouni and quash the prison sentences against them;

2. Immediately and unconditionally remove the travel ban imposed on human rights defenders Wajeha Al-Huwaider, and Fawzia Al-Oyouni;

3. Reconsider the legal codifications of "Takhbib" or inciting women against their husbands, as this practice is judged without safe and protective legal measures.  Additionally, most women rights' defenders would be liable if attempting to help women in domestic distress;  

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 5 (c): "For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (c) To communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations" and to Article 6 (c): "Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters."