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Saudi Arabian Activist Freed After Being Imprisoned for Women’s Rights

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After 104 days in prison without trial, Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist Mariam al-Otaibi has been released.

Otaibi was arrested in April as a consequence for protesting conservative laws. Reportedly, Otaibi’s family, specifically her male relatives, grew angry with her, which resulted in a prolonged sentence in detention.

Before her arrest, Otaibi was publicly active in the “#IAMMYOWNGAURDIAN” campaign, which was focused on calling out King Salman and his government over debilitating laws that severely limit women’s autonomy.

For example, in Saudi Arabia, women’s rights to work, study, travel, and marry, are all dependent on permissions given to them by their male relatives. Saudi Arabian women did not have the right to vote until recently, in 2011.

The release of Otaibi has been a cause for celebration worldwide as it is the first time this type of common arrest in which a woman was wrongfully imprisoned was released without the consent and involvement of her father or male guardian.

The activist had been apprehended on claims of “disobedience.” As reported by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Otaibi had contacted her local authorities, the ar-Rass police, with domestic violence claims against her brothers. It was for this reason that her father had her arrested, forcing her to drop the charge to secure her release.

These arrests happen frequently with women in Saudi Arabia. As reported by the Independent, women who “break the law or flee abuse” – two things that, in the country, are not always separated by clearly defined lines – tend to be taken to rehabilitation centers. At these centers, report several activists and rights groups, these women are often treated very poorly and are held for unknown periods of time.

Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy tweeted in response to Otaibi’s release, calling the event a “feminist victory.”

Saudi Arabian women’s rights activists, however, are still waiting for the implementation of the several concessions to the wali system, promised by King Salman, who came into power in 2014. According to the Independent, changes are due to be implemented later this year, such as giving women “the right to access government services without a male guardian’s consent.”

But, as said by Equality Now, a non-profit equal rights group, the said decree is worded in a way that makes the future realities of the enacted reforms unclear.  

“There exists (in Saudi Arabia) a complex set of bylaws, with many restrictions not clearly codified. This leaves much open to interpretation by those in authority, such as the police and judges, with some adopting a more modern approach while others favour a fundamentalist application,” a statement from the group said. “There are no organisations operating inside Saudi Arabia to track the situation, so the only way we’ll know what is happening on the ground is if women report that they are still being asked to provide male consent.”

After her release, Obaibi took to twitter and tweeted a heartfelt thank you to her lawyers, Obaibi said, “Don’t let others tell you you can’t achieve – you can achieve whatever you want if you put your mind to it and believe you can.”

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