World News

Saudi Arabia to Criminalize Sexual Harassment

Saudi Arabia to Criminalize Sexual Harassment

The law has been approved by the cabinet, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The penalties increase to a fine of 300,000 riyals (about $80,000) and up to five years in jail, depending on the severity.

"It fills a large legislative vacuum, and it is a deterrent", she added.

"It is shocking that Saudi Arabia is detaining prominent women's rights defenders - the real champions behind the lifting of the driving ban - just before they allow all women the right to drive", Human Rights Watch's Rothna Begum told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

Last year's decision to end the ban on women driving cars, set to take effect on 24 June, has been hailed as proof of a progressive trend in the kingdom.

The comments came a day after the United Nations called on Saudi Arabia to provide information about almost a dozen prominent activists - mostly women who for years urged reforms that are now being implemented - arrested this month.

"We are extremely anxious about the overall human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, despite the women's driving ban being lifted in less than a month", Kareem Chehayeb, the group's Saudi Arabia researcher, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

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Four activists have been released but up to seven others remain in detention.

The activists were accused of "contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country's stability and social fabric", the human rights group said.

Saudi officials have so far not responded to requests for comment on the crackdown.

State-backed media have labeled those held as "agents of embassies", unnerving diplomats in Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally which has appealed to the West for massive investments to help transform its economy away from oil.

"Given the significant loosening of certain restrictions on women's activities in Saudi Arabia in recent months, including the forthcoming ending of the ban on women driving, it is perplexing why both women and men engaged in campaigning for such positive developments are now being targeted by the authorities", spokeswoman Liz Throssell said on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch voiced concern on Wednesday over the "vague charges" the activists are facing, adding that numerous country's activists have disappeared from the activism sphere following the arrests.

"We urge the Saudi Arabian authorities to reveal their locations, and ensure their rights to due process guarantees", Throssell said.


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