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Amnesty International urges the release of a Saudi fitness expert imprisoned for their ‘clothing choices’

Human rights organizations Amnesty International and ALQST have jointly demanded the immediate release of Manahel al-Otaibi, a fitness expert allegedly sentenced to 11 years in prison for her clothing choices and advocacy for women’s rights.

While Saudi Arabia contends that she was jailed on terrorism charges, Amnesty International asserts that she was convicted in a clandestine hearing before the country’s Specialised Criminal Court.

The charges reportedly relate to her attire, posting videos of herself in what was deemed ‘indecent clothes’, and shopping without wearing an abaya.

Although Saudi Arabia does not enforce laws mandating women to wear abayas in public spaces, cultural norms often pressure women to cover up.

Al-Otaibi’s case also includes charges for her online expression, notably calling for an end to Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system.

This system, as described by Human Rights Watch, legally enforces male guardianship over women in matters such as marriage, divorce, and child custody. Al-Otaibi’s sister, Fawzia al-Otaibi, faces similar charges but fled Saudi Arabia after being summoned for questioning in 2022.

Despite international calls for her release, the Saudi regime insists that al-Otaibi was charged under counter-terrorism laws for her online activities.

Amnesty International criticizes the lack of transparency in her trial, emphasizing that her family has not been provided access to court documents or the evidence presented against her.

Amidst condemnation from various quarters, the internet has also rallied support for al-Otaibi, denouncing the Saudi government’s actions.

This case highlights broader concerns about freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, where individuals, including many women, have faced lengthy prison sentences for their online activities.

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