A Saudi court sentenced two women to ten months in prison, along with a two-year travel ban, after they tried to help a Canadian convert to Islam who, with her three children, was denied adequate food and water and subjected to violence by her Saudi husband.
Human Rights Watch reported that on June 6, 2011, the two human rights workers, Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni, received a text message from Nathalie Morin, a Canadian woman, saying that her husband had locked the whole family in the house and left for a week-long visit to see relatives in another town while her supplies of food and water were running out.
The two bought food and came to Morin’s house, where police were already waiting for them. The women were brought to the Damman police station for questioning, where police told al-Huwaider and al-Oyouni they believed they were trying to smuggle Morin and her three children to Canada, Human Rights Center reports.
After the women signed a statement pledging to cease all involvement with the case, the police released them. However, more than a year later in July 2012, authorities called in al-Huwaider and al-Oyouni for questioning, after which the government launched a criminal case against them. They were subsequently sentenced to ten months in prison.
Al-Huwaider said that during her interrogations, investigators did not ask her about Morin’s case but rather about her involvement in the Saudi women’s rights movement, including questions about the Women2Drive campaign and her relationship with Saudi women's rights activist Manal al-Sharif. Al-Huwaider filmed al-Sharif driving a car, which is illegal in the Saudi Arabia, and posted the video on YouTube.
Al-Huwaider told Human Rights Watch that during her trial, which began in late 2012, the presiding judge denied her and al-Oyouni the right to adequately defend themselves by refusing to allow Morin to testify. The judge also declined to allow a Canadian Embassy official to attend the second trial session in December, according to Human Rights Watch.
"These harsh sentences will not deter us from our Islamic duties of helping those who are oppressed, needy, and to press for women’s rights," they said in a statement. "The charge of trying to smuggle Morin out of the country was dropped because the prosecution did not have enough evidence."
Al-Huwaider is a prominent activist, author and journalist, a co-founder of the Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East advisory committee.
A spokesman for the human rights group Equality Now said that they are extremely concerned for the safety of the Canadian woman and her children.
"We are extremely concerned about the case. In Saudi Arabia, women need permission from their male guardians for marriage and divorce, travel, education, employment, opening a bank account, elective surgery and almost everything. We are issuing an urgent alert today but this also relates to our new campaign on ending male guardianship in Saudi Arabia," a spokesman for Equality Now said.