Saudi activist Manahel al-Otaibi jailed for 11 years for advocating women’s rights

“Together for Justice” strongly condemns the 11-year prison sentence issued against Saudi activist Manahil Al-Otaibi over her women’s rights advocacy in Saudi Arabia.

The prison sentence came after a secret trial which was disclosed after repeated UN requests to the Saudi regime to disclose Al-Otaibi’s fate. Saudi officials responded in a statement to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that Manahel Al-Otaibi was sentenced on January 9 on “terrorist charges.”

The announcement was made following more than five months during which Manahel’s family was kept in the dark by prison officials regarding her whereabouts.

Private sources state that the young Saudi activist Manahel Al-Otaibi was imprisoned in secret trial by the Anti-Terrorism Court, a Specialized Criminal Court in Saudi Arabia, for 11 years for demanding women’s right to choose clothes and advocating women’s empowerment.”

According to court ruling, Manehel was sentenced in a secret session before the Anti-Terrorism Court on charges related to the Saudi anti-terrorism law, which criminalises the use of websites “to broadcast or publish false news, data, or rumors.”

Manahel al-Otaibi, a popular fitness instructor on social media in Saudi Arabia, was detained over her social media posts challenging the country’s male guardianship laws and women’s rights, despite praising some of the regime’s latest reforms in this regard. However, she was arrested after calling for further reforms in November 2022. Until today, she was neither charged nor tried.

Manahel is likely to face charges of sedition, given that many female and male detainees who were arrested for publishing similar tweets promoting women’s rights and challenging male guardianship, were all tried for sedition and destabilizing the country.

Manahel is the latest Saudi victim to be arbitrarily arrested over social media posts challenging Saudi authorities. However, many have faced the same fate for the same reasons, including Salma Al-Shehab, who was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison for retweeting anti-regime activists.

Despite the Saudi regime’s attempts to introduce a set of social reforms granting women freedoms, including allowing women to drive, work, and travel, as part of a broader campaign to boost the Kingdom’s foreign image and improve tourism, the government continues its repressive approach against any Saudi woman calling for further reforms.

For years, the Saudi authorities have always targeted Twitter users as part of a wide campaign that included planting spies within the company to leak confidential user data about anonymous accounts criticizing the authorities.

The Saudi regime’s repressive campaign against Twitter users escalated after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) purchased – indirectly – a large share of Twitter through the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, to be the largest investor after Elon Musk and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and also controlling a $250 million (£200 million) stake in Snapchat.

According to media reports, any press inquiry sent to Twitter to comment on the repressive campaign carried out by the Saudi authorities against Twitter users faces only one response with an inappropriate emoji. The company’s automatic response to press inquiries has appeared since Musk took over the company.

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