A Saudi Arabian woman, Sawsan Salim, has been sentenced to 300 lashings and one and a half years in prison for filing harassment complaints about government officials and appearing in court in the northern Qasim region without a male guardian present. In 2007, Salim filed 118 harassment complaints against local officials, who allegedly mistreated her when she appeared in their offices unchaperoned, according to Business Week. Salim appeared without a male guardian because her husband, her sole male family member, was in prison at the time. She initially approached a local court in 2004, when she sought help to release her husband from prison.
The legal guardianship system in Saudi Arabia requires that women, both minors and adults, must be accompanied by a male guardian outside the home. If women wish to conduct themselves in public business, work, or to drive, they must obtain permission from or be accompanied by their male guardian, who may be her husband, father, brother, or even a minor son, according to Human Rights Watch. The Saudi Arabian government promised in June 2009 to follow United Nations suggestions to remove this restrictive system, but has not made this change.
“In Saudi Arabia, being a woman going about her legitimate business without a man’s protection is apparently a crime,” said Nadya Khalife, a women’s rights researcher for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to free Sawsan Salim and keep its promise to end this discriminatory system.”
A similar case occurred in March 2009, when Khamisa Sawadi, an elderly Saudi woman, was accused of fraternization with men after two men outside of her family brought her bread. She was sentenced to 40 lashings, 4 months jail time and deportation. In February 2008, an American business woman was arrested for being in the family section of a Starbucks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with a male colleague.