Less than a month before the June 24 date on which Saudi Arabia will officially lift a decades-old ban on women drivers, the kingdom introduced a law on Wednesday that criminalizes sexual harassment.
It is “a very important addition to the history of regulations in the kingdom,” Shura Council member Latifa al-Shaalan, a woman, was reportedly quoted as saying on Wednesday after the Saudi Kingdom’s Shura Council, which advises the cabinet, passed a draft law that seeks to introduce a prison term of up to five years and a maximum penalty of 300,000 Saudi riyals (or $80,000 USD) for anyone found guilty of sexual harassment.
“It fills a large legislative vacuum, and it is a deterrent,” al-Shaalan reportedly added.
The sexual harassment legislation requires a royal decree to become law. It is the latest introduction by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who is seen as a reformist.
While preceding the lifting of the driving ban, the law was introduced in the midst of a crackdown on women’s rights activists.
According to the Middle East Eye, “at least 11 detained in the days leading up to this latest measure criminalizing sexual harassment.”
“The Saudi government seems so consumed with silencing dissent that even activists who have gone quiet for fear of retribution are being targeted again,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, reportedly said.
She added, “The Saudi authorities should be concerned that the chill created by this new wave of repression will lead the country’s allies to question how serious Saudi Arabia is about changing its approach to women’s rights.”