Saudi Arabia Women Rights Activist, Manahel Al-Otaibi Jailed for 11 Years Over Support of Women’s Rights

A young women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia, Manahel Al-Otaibi has been secretly sentenced to 11 years imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court for championing women’s rights online and choice of clothing.

Saudi officials revealed in a statement to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that Al-Otaibi was sentenced ongrounds of “terrorist offences”.

The counter terrorism court in a secret hearing charged Al-Otaibi, for committing a terroist crime such as publishing news, statements, false rumours which contravenes Saudi anti-terror law that criminalises the Use of websites.

Al-Otaibi, a certified fitness instructor and artist who frequently promoted women’s rights on her social media accounts, was arrested in November 2022.

Among other charges, Otaibi was accused by Saudi authorities of using a hashtag – translated to #societyisready – to call for an end to male guardianship rules.

According to the Saudi government’s response to the UN, as of 25 January 2024, al-Otaibi’s sentencing was subject to appeal and her case remained “under consideration before the courts”.

Al-Otaibi’s sentencing comes amid an intensified crackdown on free speech in Saudi Arabia, including online expression.

Her case follows similar cases in the past two years, in which Saudi women were handed down lengthy prison terms for their expression on social media. They include women such as Salma al-Shehab (27 years), Fatima al-Shawarbi (30 years), Sukaynah al-Aithan (40 years) and Nourah al-Qahtani (45 years).

Rights groups decry the severe abuse al-Otaibi has been subjected to, beginning with her forcible disappearance for five months from November 2023 to April 2024.

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