By Courtney Trenwith
Two prominent women’s rights activists say they were set up when they responded to text for help
Two Saudi women are expected to be jailed on Sunday or Monday for taking food to a woman after receiving a text message that said her husband had locked her in their apartment with three children.
Prominent women’s rights activists Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni responded to the plea by taking food to the woman’s apartment, where she was believed to have been trapped by her abusive husband who had gone away for several days.
The two women were arrested as soon as they arrived nearby the home in June 2011.
They believe they were set-up, possibly by the husband, who was at home at the time, or the religious police.
The women inside the apartment, a Canadian, is well known in Saudi Arabia for her fight to be allowed to leave the kingdom with her three children. She claims her Saudi husband is abusive.
Al-Huwaider, also a writer who has been prominent in the campaign to allow women to drive, and al-Oyouni were convicted in June of breaking the Shariah law takhbib, which means inciting a wife to defy the authority of her husband.
They were sentenced to 10 months’ jail and given a two-year travel ban.
Their appeal was determined in a closed court Sunday last week and the women have been told unofficially that their sentences were upheld.
They expect to be recalled to the Court of First Instance to have the verdict read to them imminently. They would be imprisoned immediately.
“[The appeal] has been decided ... a guy from the Appeals Court told them that the decision has come up,” Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East and North Africa consultant for activist group Equality Now, told Arabian Business.
“Then the procedure is that the appeals court should send the judgment to the First Instance Court in order for the court to call on them. Definitely they’ll be in prison.”
Abu-Dayyeh said the authorities had been trying to silence the two women for years and their heavy sentence was to punish them for speaking out against Saudi restrictions on women’s rights.
“They didn’t really commit any crime [they were] just trying to help a woman who called for their assistance in bringing food for her and their kids,” Abu-Dayyeh said.
“[The Canadian woman’s] case has been known in Saudi Arabia for more than five years and everybody knows that this woman is targetted by her husband. She really wants to go to Canada but she doesn’t want to leave becasue of her kids and really nobody has helped her to get out of this abusive relationship, instead they sentence two women to jail because they’re just activists.”
Abu-Dayyeh told The Guardian, the case and sentence marked a dangerous escalation of how far Saudi authorities were willing to go.
"This case and the system of lifelong male guardianship of women in Saudi Arabia shows that protecting a husband's dominant, even abusive, position in the family is far more important than his wife's wellbeing," she said.
The women were originally charged with attempting to kidnap the woman and assist her to leave the country. That charge was dropped when a member of the Saudi royal family intervened.
“It was not true at all, that’s why the court dismissed the allegation,” Abu-Dayyeh said.
Is this woman a Canadian national? where is her government in all this? Where are her rights as a human being being upheld?