‘Justice for all’: How Saudi Arabia’s sexual harassment law will work

With Saudi Arabia’s new anti-harassment law soon to take effect, individuals could now live a normal life free of fear. (File photo)
Updated 03 June 2018
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‘Justice for all’: How Saudi Arabia’s sexual harassment law will work

  • Ground-breaking legislation will protect both genders — with those who report violations promised confidentiality
  • Under the law, sexual harassment is defined as words or actions that hint at sexuality towards one person from another, or that harms the body, honor or modesty of a person in any way. 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new anti-harassment law will help all individuals live a normal life free of fear, the Interior Ministry’s security spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, has said.

With the new law coming into effect within a couple of days,  following its publication in the Official Gazette, Al-Turki explained how it would be implemented in a press conference on Thursday. 

The new law, approved by a Council of Ministers meeting last Tuesday,  will combat sexual harassment in the Kingdom, which is considered a crime according to Islamic law. 

“We expect that this law will lower sexual harassment crimes,” Al-Turki said. “We are working towards not having these crimes in any place in the Kingdom.” 

No statistics are available on the incidence of sexual harassment, because of past reluctance to report violations. “These crimes were under the morale law, and because there was  little reporting, that is why this law has been provided to protect the identity of the harassed and help them come forward and report incidents,” Al-Turki said.

The Kingdom has recently witnessed a wide-ranging series of reforms. The ambitious Vision 2030 aims to have women more involved and less segregated than before. While the new law reaffirms women’s role in society, it is not related to women in Saudi Arabia being allowed to drive from June 24, Al-Turki said. In fact, the law applies to both genders.  

“This law is to help all individuals live a normal life without any incidents of harassment,” he said. “Any person who has been subjected to harassment or has been a witness to it should inform the competent authorities.”

The most severe punishments will be given to those who harass people with special needs and children under the age of 18, with an awareness campaign to be introduced in schools.  

“Many people are reluctant to have their children participate in certain activities for fear of being harassed. This law helps put the guardians at ease,” he said.

The most severe cases will face prison terms of up to five years and/or a maximum penalty of SR300,000 ($80,000). Incidents that have been reported more than once will be subject to the maximum punishment. 

Lesser cases will face a prison term of up to two years and/or a maximum penalty of SR100,000. 

“The Public Prosecution will give out the punishment, depending on the crime committed.” Al-Turki said.

Fines paid by the harasser will not go to the harassed. “The most important aspect is that justice has been witnessed by the harassed,” he said.

Under the law, sexual harassment is defined as words or actions that hint at sexuality towards one person from another, or that harms the body, honor or modesty of a person in any way. 

“The law is clear: Anything that is sexually related or within a sexual context will be taken into consideration. Everyone understands what sexual harassment is. We are all Muslims and have been raised with Islamic values,” Al-Turki said. 

The law will apply to modern technology, including social media. “Many people believe if they use fake names, we won’t be able to identify them or track them down,” Al-Turki said. However, “if there are documents and evidence, we will take action.” 

Explicit emojis could be considered harassment, Al-Turki said, but a rose emoji should not be cause for concern. “The investigation between the two individuals will be built on evidence, and the Public Prosecution will conclude if there is or isn’t harassment,” he said.

Reports will protect the privacy of those involved. “We have information that there are a lot of people who are hesitant to report harassments because of the consequences to privacy,” Al-Turki said. “The system provides confidentiality to protect the harassed.” 

 


Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet approves new tobacco license regulation

Updated 39 min 55 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet approves new tobacco license regulation

  • Annual license will cost more than $26,000
  • New measure could lead to more vaping, says expert

JEDDAH: Cafes and restaurants in Saudi Arabia will have to pay up to SR100,000 ($26,675) a year to sell tobacco products inside and outside their premises, after the Cabinet approved a new licensing regulation.

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to ratify the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005, an ambitious plan to reduce smoking rates from 12.7 percent to 5 percent by 2030.

The Health Ministry has taken steps to curb smoking through awareness campaigns and cessation clinics. Taxes on cigarettes doubled in 2017, leading to a 213 percent increase in smokers seeking help to kick the habit in the months that followed.

Saudi restaurant owner Hassan Moriah supported the Cabinet decision, although he said customers would be hit the hardest.

“Every restaurant and café manager should be licensed to provide this service. I believe all restaurants and cafés will support this decision too, but I believe the only people who will be affected by this decision are the customers,” he told Arab News. “All outlets will raise the price of hookahs. The actual people who would be paying for it to reach SR100,000 are the customers and not the cafés. Yes, there will be people who cannot afford to pay the new prices and they may have to cut down on their hookah consumption.”

The new regulation would also affect places that were not so popular, he added.

Associate professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University Dr. Sean Foley, who is writing a book on smoking in Saudi Arabia and the wider Muslim world, said the new law was part of the Kingdom’s attempts to address a serious health crisis while also meeting a goal of the Vision 2030 reform plan to move away from non-oil revenues.

“While raising cigarette taxes is a proven strategy for reducing smoking, the new SR100,000 annual fee for Saudi restaurants to permit patrons to smoke may be even more important,” he told Arab News. “Many restaurants may not be able to afford to pay for such an expensive permit, so there is likely to be less smoking in restaurants. That would mean there will be fewer people exposed to second-hand smoke in restaurants, itself a serious problem, and existing smokers would have a powerful new incentive to quit. Studies have consistently shown that creating smoke-free areas is one of the most powerful tools to motivate and help existing tobacco users to quit while preventing new smokers from picking up the habit.”

"The academic, who has written "Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom" published this year, said the Kingdom had some of the highest smoking rates in the world.

He added that the problem was getting worse as the number of smokers in Saudi Arabia was expected to rise from six million to 10 million in the coming years.

He warned that while there was the danger of a rise in smuggling and other black-market activities — because of the higher costs associated with smoking — there were other challenges too.

“The real danger is not the rise in black-market activity but that Saudis will continue to switch in large numbers to a product that is currently legal to use — vaping. While purchasing any of the products associated with vaping is illegal in the Kingdom, it is legal to vape in public and many Saudis buy vape juice and vape modules online.”