Saudi Cabinet approves measure criminalising sexual harassment

Saudi Cabinet approves measure criminalising sexual harassment

Saudi Cabinet approves measure criminalising sexual harassment

"We are extremely anxious about the overall human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, despite the women's driving ban being lifted in less than a month", Kareem Chehayeb, the group's Saudi Arabia researcher, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

The move comes weeks before the kingdom lifts its ban on women drivers.

The new draft law "aims to combat the crime of harassment, prevent its occurrence, punish the perpetrators and protect the victims, in order to preserve the privacy, dignity and personal freedom of individuals guaranteed by the provisions of Islamic law and regulations". Most are women who previously campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.

The kingdom's Shura Council, its legislative body, has approved the draft law, which will introduce a prison term of up to five years and a penalty of $80,000 for the crime.

It is the latest introduction by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who is seen as a reformist.

Saudi police recently arrested 11 women's rights advocates in a sweeping crackdown.

"[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.

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They are entitled to the right to legal representation, to know the nature of the charges against them, to have access to their families and to be brought before an impartial tribunal within a reasonable period of time, she added.

Calling the new law a "qualitative leap" in the fight against sexual harassment, leading lawyer Dimah Alsharif told Arab News that the end of the driving ban focused attention on the issue of potential harassment.

Amnesty International said at least four of the detainees were freed last week, but the rights group said the fate of the others is unclear.

Officials haven't identified those detained but have accused them of "suspicious contact with foreign parties", giving financial support to "enemies" and attempting to undermine Saudi Arabia's "security and stability".

The UN human rights office said the government should ensure the women and other campaigners in custody receive due process.

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights also expressed concerns on Tuesday about the activists' detention. "We call on the authorities to release all human rights activists immediately".

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