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Article Saudi Arabia: Shura Council Approves Anti-harassment Bill

(June 14, 2018) The 150-member Saudi Parliament in its 40th ordinary session of May 28, 2018, approved a new anti-harassment law by an 84-vote majority. (Royal Decree No. 96/M of May 31, 2018, government weekly newspaper Umm al-Qura website (in Arabic); Shura Holds Its 40th Ordinary Session, SAUDI PRESS AGENCY (May 28, 2018); Habib Toumi, Saudi Shura Approves Anti-harassment Draft Law, GULF NEWS (May 29, 2018).) The new law aims to combat the crime of harassment, punish the perpetrators, and protect the victims in order to preserve their privacy, dignity, and personal freedom, as guaranteed by Islamic law. (Toumi, supra.)

Provisions of the Law

The new law defines the term “harassment” as any word, act, or sign with a sexual connotation by a person to any other person that harms their body or modesty by any means, including through modern technology. The law imposes on violators the penalty of imprisonment for up to two years and a fine of up to 100,000 Saudi Riyals (about US$26,666). The penalty is enhanced to five years of imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 Saudi Riyals (about US$80,000) if the individual repeats the crime of harassment. Provisions of the law also punish incidents of harassment at work places. Additionally, the law provides that anyone who incites others or assists them in any way to commit the offense of harassment are punishable by the same penalty prescribed for the offenders. Finally, anyone who attempts to harass another person is punishable by one year of imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 Saudi Riyals (US$13,333). (Id.)

Reactions to the Law

  1. Members of Parliament

Female members of the Saudi Shura Council have endorsed the law. Hoda Al-Helaissi, a female member of the Council, announced that the new law is extremely important, adding that the law not only protects both genders but also protects women while driving. (Aisha Fareed, Saudi Shura Council Approves New Law Against Harassment, ARAB NEWS News (May 29, 2018).) (The ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia expires on June 24, 2018. (Hams Saleh, Saudi Women Drivers Begin Countdown to Big Day, GULF NEWS (June 13, 2018).)) Al-Helaissi further stated that there would be more modifications to the law in the near future. (Fareed, supra.)

Another female member of the Shura Council, Latifah Al-Shaalan, said that the new anti-harassment law is an important addition to the Kingdom’s legal history because it fills a legislative vacuum. Al-Shaalan added that she had proposed more articles to the anti-harassment law concerning protecting victims reporting incidents of harassment and witnesses to such incidents. (Id.)

  1. Legal Counselors

In addition to members of the Shura Council, Saudi legal counselors, such as Dimah Al-Ashraf, have declared their support for the new law. Al-Asharf said that the law is a “qualitative leap” in the field of fighting sexual harassment in the Kingdom. (Id.) Faisal Al Mashouh, another Saudi attorney, also said that the law would “be a road map to control existing relations in society and protect the rights of women.” He added that the new law would grant women more self-confidence and encourage them to pursue their goals and be active participants in nation building, as envisioned in Vision 2030 of the Kingdom. (Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr. & Aisha Fareed, Saudi Society Welcomes New Law Criminalizing Sexual Harassment, ARAB NEWS (Sept. 30, 2017).)

  1. Saudi Citizens

Saudi citizens have also endorsed the new law. Rawan Al-Jabri, a Saudi woman, said that what the new law provides “is not a privilege as much as a basic right for all women,” and punishing those who harass either women or men would lower the harassment rate. (Fareed, supra.) Farah Al-Jabr tweeted that she finally felt “like a human being,” while Maha Al-Fahad tweeted, “OK … If this is a dream, don’t wake me up.” (Estimo Jr. & Fareed, supra.)

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