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Human Rights Watch called on Saturday for Saudi Arabia to halt an interrogation of an American woman resident in the Arab country, considering that it could lead to her being charged with “disturbing public order” for expressing herself on social media, a charge punishable by harsh prison sentences in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
She is Carly Morris, 34, divorced from a Saudi and trapped in the kingdom since 2019 along with her daughter, Tala, 8. This is because of the guardianship system applied in the country, and who was summoned by the Prosecutor’s Office after denouncing through her Twitter account the “discriminatory guardianship system” in Saudi Arabia.
According to a statement from the NGO, Morris is due to appear tomorrow, Sunday, before the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the city of Bayda, in central Saudi Arabia, according to “a legal summons reviewed by HRW,” in which no charge is specified. However, the woman “believes it is related to her statements on social media.”
“Article 103 of the (Saudi) Penal Code, mentioned in the summons, authorizes prosecutors to arrest and detain a person under investigation,” HRW warned.
It also added that “the summons, on September 18, refers only to disturbing public order, an overly broad charge often leveled against Saudi dissidents and others for expressing” their views.
“Saudi authorities are once again sending a message that anyone who criticizes their draconian and discriminatory laws can be subject to arrest and prosecution,” said Sarah Yager, Washington advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
It also called on the U.S. to “listen to Carly Morris’ desperate plea for help and do all it can to protect her and her daughter from repression by its Saudi ally.”
The note explained that Morris married the Saudi in 2013 in New York, but the marriage lasted only five years. In August 2019, she traveled to Saudi Arabia with her daughter for a brief visit. Her ex-husband confiscated her passports and Tala’s U.S. birth certificate and refused to return them for several months.
In addition to applying for and obtaining Saudi citizenship for her daughter “without her knowledge or permission,” the ex-husband informed her in May that he had opened a “libel and slander” case against her because of her tweets, she added.
“Morris told HRW that last April, she criticized (on Twitter) Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, which prevents her from leaving the country with her daughter, performing parental duties, such as getting medical care or deciding on her daughter’s education, without her ex-husband’s prior permission,” he added.
Several human rights NGOs have repeatedly denounced that Saudi Arabia often prosecutes and convicts terrorist activists, social media users, and critics for peacefully expressing their opinions.
The London-based Saudi organization ALQST reported last week that five Saudi activists were sentenced in August to prison terms ranging from 32 to 50 years in separate cases for speaking out on social media to seek reform or oppose Riyadh government policies.