June 17, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5338

Saudi Women's Rights Activists Wajeha Al-Huweidar, Fawzia Al-'Uyouni Sentenced To Prison For Trying To Help Canadian Woman Living In Saudi Arabia

June 17, 2013
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 5338

On June 15, 2013, following a one-year trial, Saudi women's rights activists Wajeha Al-Huweidar and Fawzia Al-'Uyouni were convicted of inciting a wife against her husband and of trying to smuggle her and her children out of Saudi Arabia. They were sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment followed by a two-year ban on leaving the country.[1] The two were arrested by the Saudi authorities in June 2011 on the grounds that they had tried to kidnap Nathalie Morin – a French Canadian living in Saudi Arabia – and her three children and to smuggle them into the Canadian embassy in Riyadh.

Morin, who is married to a Saudi, Sa'eed Al-Shahrani, and has been living in the kingdom for eight years, has a Twitter account and a YouTube channel on which she posts videos and testimonies about her life in Saudi Arabia. In some of these posts, she wrote that she and her family were in extreme financial distress, that her husband was abusing her, and that she wished to return to Canada but that Saudi authorities had been preventing her from leaving the country with her family since 2006.

Throughout their investigation and trial, Al-Huweidar and Al-'Uyouni denied trying to kidnap Morin or to smuggle her out of the country, and claimed that they had been arrested while trying to bring food and water to Morin and her children who were imprisoned inside their house. They also emphasized that Morin speaks no Arabic, which makes the claim that they tried to incite her very dubious.

Saudi women's rights activists Wajeha Al-Huweidar

In a communiqué they issued following their sentencing, Al-Huweidar and Al-'Uyouni stated that they had been convicted despite the absence of any evidence against them and despite the fact that the judge had refused to question Morin throughout the six trial hearings. They promised to appeal the sentence, and added that the entire affair was a conspiracy meant to hobble them and curb their humanitarian activity. They wrote: "These harsh sentences that have been imposed on us will not prevent us from pursuing [the cause that is] dictated by our Muslim faith and our humanitarian and moral duty – [namely] to help the oppressed, the deprived, and the needy, and to protect the rights of women in our country, in all domains, including their right to social, political, and employment empowerment, and her right to drive."[2]

In response to the sentence, Nathalie Morin (aka Umm Sameer) wrote in English on her blog: "Firstly, I would like to say I am sorry for what's happening to madam Wajeha Al Huweidar and her friend who tried to help me. I have nothing to do with that! I never wanted to run away or to do any illegal things. I'm just a woman, a mother and a wife who fights for her survival since eight years. We have been on many periods of time without food and drinkable water. Actually, right now we're eating only bread, dates and undrinkable water from our sink since May 6th.

"I live in Saudi Arabia since March 5th 2005 without any protection and any help from anyone. Saudi authorities hate me for some unknown reasons and Canadian government doesn't do anything to help or protect me. They would like me to abandon my children. I live under governmental pressure since eight years. Nobody help me and no one comes to visit me. I cannot help myself and I have no any right in Saudi Arabia. My children are hungry and I cannot do anything to feed them. I'm fighting to get freedom, justice and fairness for my family including myself. I'm asking the Government of Canada to help my family to return to Canada immediately."[3]

Nathalie Morin's Twitter account:

After Al-Huweidar and Al-'Uyouni's sentence became known, women's rights activists Elham Mane'a and Manal Al-Sharif wrote articles expressing support for the two and criticizing the policy of the Saudi regime and the lack of international intervention in the affair.

The following are excerpts from their articles:

Elham Mane'a: The Saudi Regime Fears 'Voices Of Reform' And Therefore Tries To Silence Them

Elham Mane'a, a Yemeni woman's rights activist living in Switzerland, published an article titled "We Are All Wajeha Al-Huweidar." In it, she wrote that the Saudi authorities had used the affair of the Canadian woman as an excuse to settle scores with Al-Huweidar and Al-'Uyouni, and criticized the West's "shameful silence" over this matter:

"...The Canadian woman is not the point, despite her tragic story. [The point is] the attempt of the Saudi authorities to forcefully silence Wajeha Al-Huweidar and her fellow [activist]. Wajeha Al-Huweidar was the first [activist] to challenge the Saudi decision to ban women from driving, and in 2008 she posted a video on YouTube [that showed her] driving a car. Driving was a symbol for her: a symbol of the constraints that are imposed upon the Saudi woman, transforming her into a minor who cannot act without [the approval of] a guardian who speaks on her behalf, limits her movements and freedom, and prevents her from being equal to the man in rights and dignity.

"For years, [Al-Huweidar] worked tirelessly alongside other women activists. She called for reforms and for amending discriminatory and oppressive Saudi laws; wrote articles that, in time, were banned from publication in the Saudi press, and insisted on change – and all this without calling even once for a change of regime. That's something she never did. Her call was for reform within the framework of the [existing] regime. However, if, before the Arab Spring, the Saudi regime could tolerate [some] criticism, now it is so scared and terrified that it cannot tolerate any criticism at all, [and] that's why it has begun using tactics of intimidation. Disregarding the outcry in the international media and the criticism of international human rights organizations, it arrested [figures] calling for reform, such as 'Abdallah Al-Hamed, Muhammad Fahad Al-Qahtani, and Turki Al-Hamad.

"[Then] came the turn of Wajeha Al-Huweidar and Fawzia Al-'Uyouni. The least that can be said of [their] trial is that it exposed the shame of the Saudi judicial system. This is a judicial system that did not provide an interpreter for the Canadian woman, who [therefore] did not understand a single word during the trial proceedings… and which [allowed] the judge to treat Al-Huweidar and Al-'Uyouni in a brutal manner, as though he was their rival, not a judge. This is a judicial system that belongs in the Middle Ages.

"Al-Huweidar and Al-'Uyouni are accused of attempting to 'break up a marriage' and of encouraging a woman to 'rebel' against her husband. What century is this kingdom living in? The case of Al-Huweidar and Al-'Uyouni is a matter of conscience, for it reflects the absence of human rights in Saudi Arabia. This kingdom thinks it can violate the rights of its citizens, men and women, and silence the voices calling for peaceful reform. It believes this especially thanks to the shameful silence of its Western allies. In the face of this silence, we now raise our voices and say: We are all Wajeha Al-Huweidar."[4]

Manal Al-Sharif: In Saudi Arabia, You Need Only Be A Shi'ite To Face All Kinds Of Terrible Accusations

Saudi women's rights activist, Manal Al-Sharif, who in 2011 led a campaign of her own against the ban on women driving, also wrote an article slamming the trial and sentence. In the article, she tells how Al-Huweidar mentored and encouraged her, helped her in the driving campaign, and even accompanied her when she drove a car as an act of protest, for which she (Al-Sharif) was arrested and detained for several days. She adds: "Upon my release from prison, I could not understand the brutal campaign [that was being waged] against [Al-Huweidar] and the accusations that were being leveled at her: that she had enticed me to drive a car, when [in fact] I was the one who had insisted on it. I could not understand it until I learned two things about her. First, that she had been one of the first women to voice the demand to release women from the guardianship [requirement],[5] and second, that she is Shi'ite. I think that in my homeland, you need only to be Shi'ite to have all kinds of terrible false accusations hurled against you, such as [accusations of] collaboration, treason, and loyalty to another [country] on the other side of the Gulf [i.e., Iran]. It seems that these two facts about Al-Huweidar are enough [to motivate] an organized, systematic, and arbitrary campaign against her, aimed at ruining her reputation everywhere [by means of] curses, invective, and accusations of treason...

"The sentence [imposed on] the two women does not harm only them, but every Saudi woman who believed in her right to live in dignity, defended [this right], and passed this notion on to her fellow women...

"Along with Wajeha, I personally followed [the development of] the case that was fabricated against [her and Al-'Uyouni, who were accused of] kidnapping and trying to smuggle the Canadian woman [out of the country]. But [Al-Huweidar and Al-'Uyouni] were only trying to bring food to the woman whose husband had imprisoned her in the house along with her children. If they had really tried to kidnap her, as the husband claims, why wasn't the [Canadian] woman herself brought to trial?... The sentence [issued against them] is unacceptable, unreasonable and is an affront to anyone who has ever rescued the oppressed or helped a victim of injustice. In fact, it is a sentence that strengthens the oppressors."[6]



[1] Al-Hayat (London), June 16, 2013.

[2], June 16, 2013.

[3], June 11, 2013.

[4], June 16, 2013.

[5] In Saudi Arabia a woman is bound to a mahram: a husband, father, grandfather, brother or son who serves as her guardian. The woman requires her guardian's approval and escort for almost any decision or move. For example a Saudi woman is not permitted to travel abroad unescorted by a guardian.

[6], June 16, 2013.

Share this Report: