Two women in Saudi Arabia have been sent to jail, after being convicted of the Shari’a offence of takhbib.
Their crime: attempting to take food to an abused woman who was being starved by her husband.
Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni were ‘caught’ by police on June 6 2011, when they were taking a food parcel to a woman they thought was in an abusive relationship. They had information that the woman’s husband had left to go traveling for five days but that he had locked his wife and their children in the house without food during his absence.
As Huwaider and Oyouni were making their way to the house, they were surrounded by Saudi security forces. They were arrested and told they would soon stand trial.
They were subsequently convicted of takhbib. That means, ‘inciting a woman to defy her husband’.
The two women activists have tried to fight their sentence, but last month an appeal court upheld their conviction. They will be banned from travel for two years and serve 10 months in jail.
Both Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni have come into conflict with authorities in the past for their activist activities – which include driving, and speaking out regarding other restrictions on women’s rights, such as child marriage and a limited education for girls – and international campaigners believe that the two women have been given a particularly heavy sentence in order to discourage others from following their example.
As Suad Abu-Dayyeh, an activist in the group Equality Now explained, “These women are extremely brave and active in fighting for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, and this is a way for the Saudi authorities to silence them … If they are sent to jail, it sends a very clear message to defenders of human rights that they should be silent and stop their activities – not just in Saudi Arabia, but across Arab countries.”
“These women are innocent,” Abu-Dayyeh continued. “They should be praised for trying to help a woman in need, not imprisoned. They now find themselves at the mercy of the system they have fought so tirelessly to change.”