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Saudi female activist faces possible death penalty

 

Israa al-Ghomgham could be the first female human rights activist to be sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia. On August 6, a public prosecutor in Riyadh recommended the death penalty for six political activists, including Ghomgham. She and her husband, Moussa al-Hashem who have been in prison since 2015, were sentenced to death on charges of protesting against the Saudi government and incitement to disobedience in the Shia-majority region, Qatif.

Ghomgham, 29, and her husband were arrested on December 8, 2015. She was one of the leaders of anti-government protests that started in Qatif in 2011, demanding the end of anti-Shia discrimination and the release of political prisoners.

At the final hearing, scheduled on October 28 2018, a judge will either confirm or reverse the recommendation for death penalty issued by the public prosecutor. If the decision is ratified by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Ghongham will be beheaded by a sword.

Noteworthy is the fact that none of the charges against Ghongham relate to the use of violence, which under Saudi law warrants the death penalty. This indicates that the death penalty is being used in Saudi as a weapon to suppress dissent. Ali Adubisi, Director of the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) stated “It’s largely a revenge against the Arab Spring, and a punishment for Qatif, which witnessed the largest protests since 2011.” Adubisi continues “Sentencing a female human rights defender to death is a dangerous precedent in Saudi Arabia.” ESOHR’s latest count of people on death row in Saudi Arabia is around 58.

The verdict against Ghomgham has resulted in a social media campaign asking for her release and the release of activists arrested in the past year. The Shiite minority that lives in Qatif has complained that Sunni authorities banned them from practicing their religion, and that they are not given the same opportunities for work and education. The government has denied the accusations. According to rights advocacy groups, Saudi Arabia has executed Shiite activists in the past for political reasons. A recent UN report issued last June said, “Those who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression are systematically persecuted in Saudi Arabia, many languish in prison for years. Others have been executed after blatant miscarriages of justice.”

According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia where in 2017 alone, 100 people were beheaded, remains “one of the most prolific executioners in the world.”

Reforms allow women in Saudi Arabia to be entrepreneurs

The government of Saudi Arabia announced Sunday women will be able to start their own businesses without permissions of a male guardian. The announcement was made over Twitter by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment, saying “No need for a guardian’s position. Saudi women are free to start their own businesses freely. #NoNeed.”

This degree is part of prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision3030 plan, which aims to alter the economy so it isn’t so reliant on oil. To do this, the prince hopes to reduce female unemployment in the country and raise the number of women in the workforce from 22 per cent to 30 per cent.

This announcement is intriguing and somewhat startling for a society that has oppressed women for so many decades. Of course, little detail was released about enforcing this new decree and the challenges facing women once they decide to open a business, such as banking, employees, and sales. There is also a lot of pushback from more conservative members of state.

Back in September 2017, King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a decree allowing women to be given driving licences as of June 2018. Since then, a Middle Eastern taxi app has signed up almost 1,000 female drivers in February. Their goal is to hire 10,000 by the end of the year. The Ministry of Labour is also reportedly looking into subsidizing car sharing for working women, as public transportation is so scarce.

Both of these decrees are positive changes to Saudi Arabian society; however, until they are implemented, it remains unknown as to how much of an impact they will have.

Breaking: Saudi Arabia King gives women right to drive

In extremely surprising news, King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a decree allowing women to be given driving licences. According to media reports, this royal decree will lead to the creation of a ministerial body that will provide advice and implement the decree by June 2018.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not permit women to drive. Women who disobeyed this law were fined, beaten, or imprisoned.

This decree came out a week after the government launched a reform program that allowed women to enter a sports stadium to celebrate a national festivity and attend a concert. The government has been criticized by those within the clergy for gender-mixing.

 

What do you think of the Muslim ‘girl in offensive clothing’?

It was the snap seen around the world. Just six seconds long, but enough to change a woman’s life forever.

On Monday, a woman was casually seen walking in the desert streets in a short skirt and a black crop top. It is summer after all, and she probably wanted to stay cool in the heat. However, she was in Saudi Arabia, a country where there are strict laws regarding how women dress and feminine identity.

As the woman smiled and coyly looked at the camera before sauntering on, this visual opened up an entire investigation into her identity, her whereabouts, and eventually her arrest.

The girl in the video has since been detained by the Saudi police and a special investigation is being held for the “girl in offensive clothing.” The case is being handled by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the religious police.

So why is this act considered offensive?

Saudi Arabia is a strict muslim country and there are certain rules that women  must obey or risk being punished. While in public, women are expected to be covered from head to toe, literally. They are required to wear something called an abaya ( a long black robe), a hijab ( a headscarf), and finally a veil to cover their faces, where normally only the eyes are visible.

In other muslim countries, the rules of dress may vary and some places in Dubai have signs posted asking their customers to wear respectful clothing , where shoulders and knees should be covered. There is also a law in Dubai which prohibits men and women from drinking alcohol, kissing, holding hands, and, most obviously, having sex in public.

Each county comes with their specific set of rules that residents have to abide by or risk being punished. Doesn’t the same go for Canada? Public sex is illegal in this country as well as displays of indecent exposure. There are also various laws concerning alcohol. In Quebec, you can easily purchase alcohol at your local grocery or corner store, but in Ontario, there are designated places to purchase alcohol such as the Beer Store and the LCBO.

My point is that every country, or even provinces, have different laws to govern and while the rules of Saudi Arabia are deemed oppressive towards women, there will always be a debate whether to support or punish. Another case making the headlines in Saudi Arabia, for example, relates to women being able to drive in the country. It is illegal for women to drive due to deep religious beliefs in which female drivers are said to undermine social values of the country. In 2011, there was a campaign in protest entitled “Women2Drive” where women were encouraged to show themselves driving on social media.

There are still various groups that advocate for female rights in Saudi Arabia, as women are still required to have male guardianship for government services, including applying for a passport or travelling abroad. A woman must get consent from her husband, father, or other male relative.

As for the woman in in the short snap, she continues to be the subject of a questionable debate, highlighting the issues of women’s rights in strict muslim countries. By the way, the viral video of that woman was shared without her knowledge — not cool friend, not cool !

Saudi Arabia elected to UN Commission on the Status of Women

It’s no joke.

Saudi Arabia has been elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Again, this is not a joke.

Agencies around the world are criticizing the UN’s decision, for obvious reasons. Saudi Arabia, a country where women are subjects of male family members; where women must adhere to strict dress codes and are prohibited from driving; where women cannot interact with men they are not related to for fear of being beaten, imprisoned in their own home, and sometimes even killed, is now being celebrated as one of the 44 countries elected to the Commission on the Status of Women last week. To be clear, this commission has the following goals: “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

According to UN Watch’s executive director, Hillel Neuer, “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief.”

Saudi Arabia has been adamantly trying to change the world’s perception of their gendered laws. In March, the country held its first women’s empowerment conference. It was led by Princess Lamia bint Majed al Saud, who insists that women in her country are misunderstood and that Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in respect to breaking down gender barriers. A Girls Council, which is meant to promote the welfare of girls and women in Saudi Arabia” was established in March as well. It was being led by 13 men. The Princess is the chair of the council, but could not appear at the launch due to gender laws. She and other women were video-conferenced in.

While it may be true that some (and I stress some) progress has been made, it doesn’t make up for the violence Saudi women face on a daily basis. It doesn’t make up for the fact that Saudi Arabia is ranked 134 out of 145 countries for gender parity in 2015. And it absolutely doesn’t make up for the lack of rights and freedoms these women enjoy (or rather don’t).

And yet, Saudi Arabia is now representing the rights and empowerment of women worldwide. Is anyone else having a problem following this decision?

I’m not sure what the UN was thinking, but this isn’t the first time the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women has screwed up. Last year, they tried to name a fictional character as their ambassador. Because that’s all women need — to aspire to be something that isn’t real and to follow the example of a misogynist state.

Well done.