Wajeha Al-Huwaider with Phellicia Dell, Rebecca Lolosoli, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Tina Brown (PRNewsFoto/The Daily Beast)
Terrible news from Saudi Arabia: After proceedings that stretched out over nearly a year and violated many legal norms, Wajeha Al-Huwaider, the prominent Saudi Human rights activist and co-organizer of protests against the ban on women drivers, has been sentenced to ten months in prison, along with her colleague Fawzia Al-Oyouni. (I interviewed Al-Huwaider here.) After they serve their terms, both will be banned from travel for two years.
Their crime? It’s a little complicated. They were accused of kidnapping and trying to help Nathalie Morin, a Canadian woman married to a Saudi, flee the country in June 2011. Morin, who has said her husband locks her in the house and is abusive, has been trying for eight years to leave Saudi Arabia with her three children. (There’s a so-far-unsuccessful campaign, spearheaded by her mother, to get the Canadian government to intervene.) Al-Huwaider says they were responding to a frantic text message from Morin, who said her husband had gone away for a week and left her locked in the house without enough food or drinkable water. When they arrived at the house with groceries, they were arrested.
The two activists were found not guilty of kidnapping, but the judge convicted them of “Takhbib”—inciting a woman against her husband. Apparently helping an abused wife feed her children is a crime in Saudi Arabia. Can’t have that in a country where women need their male “guardian's” okay to travel, work, study or even undergo surgery, where fathers have automatic legal custody of children and the Koran, interpreted at the whim of judges, is the only legal code.
Al-Huwaider writes in an e-mail:
We will be banned from traveling for two years following our release. We will be trapped in this women’s prison—that is, Saudi Arabia—for 3 years.
This is the first time in Saudi legal history that a travel ban has been imposed in a social case. This proves that the decision has really come from the Minister of Internal Affairs, and that they planned to prevent us from engaging in any human rights activities.
From the first session I knew that it was going to be very bad and I was always expecting the worst, but I didn’t think that the judge would be this aggressive.
As I see it now, it was a ‘good catch’ for the Wahabi court to convict two liberal women who have been campaigning for years to promote equality and women’s rights.
Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni have a month to appeal. Muslims for Progressive Values, a Canadian group, is appealing to leaders in Canada and Saudi Arabia.
Americans can help them too:
Contact the Saudi ambassador and protest this absurd miscarriage of justice.
Contact your congressional representative and senators and urge them to push the president and State Department.
Human Rights Watch has more details.
Michelle Bachmann protested against immigration reform in DC today. Read George Zornick's report here.