Saudi laws strip women of children custody, leave them stranded

The Saudi system never fails to strip women of their rights, from freedom of expression, which sentences women to life imprisonment in the shadows, to child custody laws.

  • Saudi laws strip women of custody
    MBS targeted Twitter users in its repression campaign.

Carly Morris, a US citizen, traveled to Saudi Arabia with her young daughter in the summer of 2019, expecting to spend some time with the girl’s Saudi father, Morris’ ex-husband.

Upon landing in Riyadh, Morris’ ex-husband confiscated her travel documents and arranged for the girl, eight-year-old Tala, to become a Saudi citizen to ensure he could refuse her exit.

Three years later, Morris is trapped in the desert kingdom, under a regime that emphasizes the power that men like her husband enjoy over women under the country’s so-called guardianship laws.

Morris is stranded in a country where she doesn’t understand the language and cannot work legally as her funds are depleted and her credit cards maxed out. To make ends meet, she had to borrow money and food from strangers.

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“I’m not leaving without my daughter,” said Morris, 34 AFP in a phone interview from the house her ex-husband rents for her in downtown Buraidah.

According to lawyers and experts, the Saudi system is against women in Morris’s situation, particularly foreigners, who are often forced to choose between staying in the country with their children and returning without them.

No premiere

Under the guise of relaxing Saudi Arabia’s notorious guardianship laws, which severely limit women’s travel and work opportunities, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler, has coupled the alleged relaxation with conditions that put Saudi women first bring.

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Human rights groups note that women, for example, still need permission from a male guardian to drive a car and face discrimination in custody disputes, despite claims that this is not the case.

Hala Al-Dosari, an activist and former visiting scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, criticized the recent changes, stressing that they still “do not limit a man’s ability to have the upper hand…”.

“Absolute authority over children is given to the father to decide where to live (to go to school) and to travel and not to the mother,” she said.

According to Bethany Al-Haidari of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, Morris is not alone and she is not the only case facing such a long and arduous ordeal.

“In Saudi Arabia, countless women and children are trapped in similarly degrading conditions,” she said.

“Legal problems” creep in

Out of nowhere, women in Morris’ situation are suddenly confronted with legal problems they don’t know about.

This month, Saudi prosecutors subpoenaed Morris and told her she was under investigation for “disturbing public order.”

Morris believes the alleged “public disturbance order” has to do with taking her case to social media. Finally, voicing your opinion on any social media channel is a criminal offense punishable by law at MBS Dictionary.

Not only that, Morris was even informed a few days ago that she had been placed under a travel ban, according to an electronic message viewed by AFPthereby preventing her from leaving the country if she ever decides to do so.

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Morris’ ex-husband’s family did not respond to requests for comment.

MBS raid: A Saudi mother sentenced to 34 years in prison for tweeting

MBS’s crackdown on social media activists simply for tweeting or sharing posts is nothing new.

In early August, a Saudi university student who returned home for a vacation was sentenced to 34 years in prison for following and retweeting dissidents and activists on her personal Twitter account.

The verdict came just weeks after US President Joe Biden’s visit to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s so-called “Special Terrorism Tribunal,” which human rights activists warned could give Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) the green light to proceed to intensify over dissidents and other pro-democracy activists.

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The case is testament to how MBS has targeted Twitter users in its repression campaign, while also acquiring a significant indirect stake in the US social Media company controlled.

In the MBS playbook, tweeting is a crime

Salma Al-Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two children, ages four and six, was initially sentenced to three years in prison for using an Internet website to “cause public disorder and harm civil and national security to destabilize. ”

However, an appeals court handed down the new sentence – 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban – after a prosecutor requested that the court consider other alleged crimes.

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Al-Shehab was not a prominent or particularly vocal Saudi activist in either Saudi Arabia or the UK.

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That incident was followed by another when another woman was jailed for using Twitter.

Court documents reviewed by a human rights organization show that a second Saudi woman, Nourah bint Saeed Al-Qahtani, has been sentenced to decades in prison by the country’s Terrorism Court for using social media to “violate public order”.

A specialized criminal court has allegedly found al-Qahtani guilty of “using the internet to tear up [Saudi Arabia’s] social fabric” and subsequently sentenced her to 45 years in prison, according to documents received and examined by Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn).

Dawn informed them Guardian of its findings, which the latter said had been confirmed by Saudi sources in hopes that the public would be able to shed light on Al-Qahtani’s case.

Abdullah Alaoudh, Dawn’s Gulf director, said Saudi authorities appeared to have detained Qahtani for “simply tweeting her opinion,” adding that “it’s impossible to separate the points between the Crown Prince Mohammed meeting.” Salman not to connect [US] President Biden in Jeddah last month and the rise in repressive attacks against anyone daring to criticize the Crown Prince or the Saudi government for well-documented abuses.

Read more: UN denounces Saudi activist’s 34-year prison sentence over tweet

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