Saudi Arabia seeks to criminalise sexual harassment


Saudi Arabia has passed a draft law aimed at combating sexual harassment amid a crackdown on women's rights advocates.

In an interview with Al Arabiya, Al-Maeena said the step is part of exerted efforts to keep up with the social changes which are in line with the kingdom's Vision 2030.

"It is shocking that Saudi Arabia is detaining prominent women's rights defenders - the real champions behind the lifting of the driving ban - just before they allow all women the right to drive", Human Rights Watch's Rothna Begum told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

"Thankfully, the law has finally seen the light".

The objectives of the bill, which should have been put forward a good while ago, include "fighting the crime of harassment, preventing it, punishing perpetrators and protecting victims in order to preserve the privacy, dignity and individual freedoms as guaranteed by Islamic jurisprudence and regulations in place". Although Saudi Arabia's state news agency claimed it was a shooting down of a toy dronethat had gotten too close to the royal property, some wondered if the gunfire was in fact a coup led by royals against King Salman.

The anti-harassment measure, which was approved on Monday by the Shura Council advisory body, introduces a jail sentence of up to five years and a 300,000 riyals (£60,345) fine.

Saudi Arabia's decision to crack down on sexual harassment comes as the kingdom has been working to reform its oppressive policies toward women.

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"[This bill] is a very important addition to the history of regulations in the kingdom", Shura Council member Latifa al-Shaalan said in statement by the information ministry.

"It is a deterrent law compared to a number of other laws in other countries", she said.

The legislation will officially become law when it is declared in a royal decree.

"We urge the Saudi Arabian authorities to reveal their locations, and ensure their rights to due process guarantees", United Nations human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell said, according to Reuters.

Without naming those detained, authorities have accused them of "suspicious contact with foreign parties", providing financial support to "enemies" and attempting to undermine the kingdom's "security and stability".

State-backed media outlets have lashed out at some detainees, branding them traitors and "agents of embassies". "We call on the authorities to release all human rights activists immediately".