Mazin Sidahmed - Saudi Arabia woman who posted photo without head scarf is arrested

Saudi police have arrested a young woman who tweeted a picture of herself outdoors without the body-length robes and head scarf that women in the kingdom are required to wear. A woman identified as Malak al-Shehri posted a picture of herself on Twitter in a jacket and multi-colored dress last month after announcing that she would leave her house without her abaya, a long loose-fitting robe, and headscarf.

The tweet caused a backlash with many calling for Shehri – whose first name means angel, which was also her moniker online – to be executed with the hashtag “We demand the arrest of the rebel Angel Shehri.” The picture posted on the downtown Riyadh street of al-Tahliya, led to someone filing a complaint with the religious police, and eventually to the woman’s arrest, according to the local Arabic-language Al-Sharq newspaper.

A police spokesman told the newspaper that Shehri, who is in her 20s, was taken to prison and he also accused her of “speaking openly about prohibited relations with (non-related) men”. “Police officers have detained a girl who had removed her abaya on al-Tahliya street, implementing a challenge she announced on social media several days ago,” the newspaper quoted Colonel Fawaz al-Maiman as saying. The country imposes a strict dress code on women in public, as well as banning them from driving and mixing with men they are not related to.

Police spokesman Maiman reportedly said in a statement that they had acted inline with their duty to monitor “violations of general morals”. After a fierce backlash from ultra-conservative critics online, Shehri took down the picture and deleted her Twitter account. Other Twitter users came out in support, with one comparing her to Rosa Parks.

Thousands of Saudis signed a petition in September that demanded the government abolish the guardianship system, which prevents women from engaging in fundamental tasks without the permission of a male relative. In late November, Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal broke with norms and called for lifting of the ban on women driving. “Stop the debate,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s time for women to drive.”

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