Saudi Arabia's New Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill Is A Little Problematic

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Saudi Shoura council member Lina Al-Maeena hailed a measure criminalizing sexual harassment approved weeks before a decades-old ban on women driving is set to be lifted.

Anyone convicted under the new law faces up to five years in a jail and a fine of SAR300,000 ($80,000).

"[This bill] is a very important addition to the history of regulations in the kingdom", Shura Council member Latifa al-Shaalan said in statement by the information ministry. As of June 24, Saudi women will officially be allowed to drive in the kingdom. They are also at risk of being eclipsed by the recent arrests of 11 rights activists, many of them identified as veteran campaigners for women's rights to drive.

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The legislation, which awaits an expected royal decree to become law, is the latest in a series of reforms that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has initiated in a bid to modernise 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.

They are entitled to the right to legal representation, to know the nature of the charges against them, to have access to their families and to be brought before an impartial tribunal within a reasonable period of time, she added. Opening up job opportunities to women without university qualifications (very much welcomed by families on lower incomes) and identifying ways to provide good vocational training to the youth of the country (70% plus of the population is under the age of 35) are initiatives to be welcomed, and are created to both bring the kingdom into the 21st century and broaden its very narrow economic base.

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Authorities have accused the activists of "suspicious contact with foreign parties", providing financial support to "enemies" and attempting to undermine the kingdom's "security and stability".

"This new arrest is another worrying development in the continued crackdown on human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia", said Samah Hadid, Amnesty's Middle East Director of Campaigns.

At least four detained activists were released last week, but the fate of the others remains unclear.

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