news

Jailed for feeding a starving woman and her children.

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.

Wajeha Al-Huwaider, speaking at a protest rally. Picture from YouTube.

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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni also believe that they have been set-up by the police – as the convenience of the authorities arriving as soon as they reached the Canadian woman’s house seems almost impossible.

The woman they were helping is Nathalie Morin, a Canadian national who fell in love with a Saudi Arabian man, and moved around the world to be with him when he was deported from Quebec. They have three children together.

Morin’s mother, Johanne Durocher, has been pleading with the Canadian government for years to help bring her daughter home – saying that she has been kept in the Kingdom against her will, and is a victim of domestic violence, abuse and rape.

Nathalie Morin.

At the time that Huwaider and Oyouni were arrested, Morin was also arrested and held for several hours. At Huwaider and Oyouni’s trial, Morin was not allowed to testify – although her husband was.

Morin has since written on her blog, “I am sorry for what’s happening to madam Wajeha al-Huwaider and her friend … [These] two Saudi women find themselves in a serious legal problem with jail just for trying to help me … there is no evidence for the charges that are against her and her friend.”

Huwaider and Oyouni, however, refuse to give up without a fight. In a statement published in Arabic on the Membar al-Ahwar website, the pair said, “These harsh sentences will not deter us from our Islamic duties of helping those who are oppressed, needy, and to press for women’s rights … The charge of trying to smuggle Morin out of the country was dropped because the prosecution did not have enough evidence.”

But despite their fighting words, the two women have been sentenced to prison – for a crime not recognised by international law. For inciting a woman to defy her husband. By making sure she had food for herself and her children.

How you can help: If you would like to take action against this injustice, Amnesty International is petitioning the King of Saudi Arabia to quash the convictions. You can sign the petition here.

Please share this post to help raise awareness of the plight of Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni.

00:00 / ???