Women activists harassed for participating in #IAmMyOwnGuardian social media campaign
Maryam Al-Otaibi, a prominent human rights defender and social media activist, was rebuked by her brothers for participating in and promoting the #IAmMyOwnGuardian social media campaign. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Al-Otaibi feared potential retribution from her family members and therefore requested that the authorities provide some form of protection. In turn, her father filed a disobedience (uqouq) case against her. A woman's act of disobedience towards male guardians is considered a crime under Saudi law. As a result of her father's case against her, Al-Otaibi was arrested and sent to a women's prison. The activist was forced to rescind her report against her brothers so that her father would drop his case and she could be set free.
#IAmMyOwnGuardian is a campaign to end male guardianship in Saudi Arabia. Since 2016, the campaign has received widespread support across the country, and thousands of social media users have joined. Women activists have submitted thousands of letters to the Saudi King urging him to put an end to the country’s guardianship system.
Activists, like Al-Otaibi, have been persecuted for their involvement in the campaign. According to press reports, a second female activist was detained for months until she apologised publicly for having participated in the campaign. In another incident, a male activist was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 8,000 USD for supporting the campaign.
According to the Arab News, on 12th April 2017 the Shoura Council requested that the Saudi Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Labor and Social Development develop the criteria for establishing a human rights organisation in the country. Already-established human rights organisations are skeptical of the Council's request, given that the Saudi authorities continue to prevent human rights organisations, such as the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, from operating. In addition, the authorities continue to target harass and detain the Association's members.
Saudi authorities continue to violate the right to freedom of expression. As reported by Amnesty International, Sudanese nationals, Elgassim Mohamed Seed Ahmed and Elwaleed Imam Hassan Taha, have been kept in detention without charges since they were arrested on 21st December 2016. They were being held incommunicado until 13th February 2017, and have reported being repeatedly interrogated about their social media activism.
The United States' Department of State 2016 annual report on human rights in Saudi Arabia listed violations of the right to freedom of expression, including the detention of journalists, bloggers, writers and human rights defenders who are critical of the government’s Press and Publications Law used to censor and shut down media outlets. The State Department's report, however, has been criticised by civil society groups for not being critical enough of the Saudi regime's deplorable human rights record.