A Saudi Arabian female activist was sentenced to 11 years on terrorism charges for 'posting opinions against the country on social media' and 'not wearing national dress.'

A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced activist Manahel Al-Otaibi, who was arrested on terrorism charges in November 2022 for opposing Saudi Arabia's traditional systems regarding women, including male guardianship and hijab laws, to 11 years in prison.

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Al-Otaibi, a fitness instructor, posted videos on Instagram, Twitter (now X) and Snapchat calling for the end of Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system, which gives fathers, brothers, husbands and sons the power to make decisions about women's marriage, divorce and travel.

In November 2022, Al-Otaibi was arrested by local authorities on suspicion of terrorism. At the time, authorities claimed that Al-Otaibi 'opposed the male guardianship system and laws requiring the wearing of the hijab,' 'spread the hashtag '#societyisready' on social media to oppose these laws,' 'posted photos and videos of himself wearing obscene clothing on his social media accounts,' and 'visited several stores without wearing the national dress

abaya , took photos of them and posted them on Snapchat.' In addition, Al-Otaibi's sister, Fawzia Al-Otaibi, was also charged with the same crime, but escaped from Saudi Arabia just before her arrest.

Three months after Al-Otaibi's arrest, the case was referred to Saudi Arabia's Special Criminal Court (SCC) in February 2023. According to Amnesty International and the London-based Saudi Arabian human rights group ALQST , the SCC is widely used to prosecute peaceful dissidents, violates fair trial standards and tends to hand out harsh sentences to activists.

Amnesty International and ALQST called on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Al-Otaibi, saying 'Ms. Al-Otaibi's imprisonment is in direct contradiction to the authorities' policies on reform and the empowerment of women.'

The human rights groups also allege that over a period of five months, between November 2023 and April 2024, Al-Otaibi was held in incommunicado detention and subjected to serious human rights violations, including physical abuse, which resulted in him breaking his leg.

In April 2024, the SCC sentenced Al-Otaibi to 11 years in prison for violating articles 43 and 44 of Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism laws, which criminalize 'creating, launching or using websites or programs on computers and electronic devices for the purpose of committing terrorist offenses' and 'broadcasting or publishing by any means any news, statement, false or malicious rumors, etc., intended to commit terrorist offenses.'

'The exercise and defense of citizens' rights is not a crime under our laws. However, we cannot tolerate terrorists justifying their actions by describing them as 'exercising or defending a right',' the SCC said.

'This verdict exposes the hollowness of the women's rights reforms touted by the Saudi authorities in recent years and demonstrates a chilling determination by the authorities to silence peaceful dissent,' said Bissan Fakih of Amnesty International.

'I have the right to choose what I want to wear, as long as it is respectable,' Al-Otaibi said from her prison cell. ALQST's Lina Al-Hathloul added: 'By arresting her and imposing this outrageous sentence on her, the Saudi authorities have demonstrated the contradictory nature of their reforms and their determination to continue their control over Saudi women.'

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