Saudi women jailed for helping a Canadian woman

saudi woman jail

Fawzia al-Ayuni and Wajiha al-Huwaider, the well known Saudi women activist, have been sentenced to 10 months in jail and banned from leaving the country for two years.

They have a month to appeal against the judgment.
The two women were convicted of the Islamic sharia law offence of takhbib*, or incitement of a wife to defy the authority of her husband. They had been briefly detained by police a year and a half ago in the company of the Canadian woman who at the time wanted to flee the kingdom with her children, although they were only taking the woman to go shopping for food because her husband had left her in the apartment without enough provisions.

When they left the apartment the women were taken into custody.

Regional rights group the Gulf Forum for Civil Societies expressed “deep concern” over the jail sentences handed down against two women, who had “defended a humanitarian right”.

Wajeha Al Huwaider

Wajeha Al Huwaider


*) Takhbib:  In Shari`ah, ”takhbib” means to estrange a wife from her husband in order to marry her. The Prophet disowned those committing such a sin saying, “He is not one of us who estranges a wife from her husband or the wife of his slave in order to marry her” (Reported by Abu Dawud).



47 Responses

  1. Boy, this story just brings up the thought of the freedoms we have in other countries that we may not even think about. It’s usually not until they are taken away or challenged or realized when we learn of those who don’t have them that we realize how fortunate we are. This is extremely unfortunate, but it also sounds like this woman or all of them have been under watch if they apprehended them just for this. I don’t think people truly understand Sharia and the severity of some of its laws. It’s sad, though because it seems like the woman is the one that receives most of the scrutiny and punishment under it. Although, I’m not saying it only targets women, it’s just my opinion that women have the least protection with regards to it.

  2. Wait a sec… Surely these Saudi ladies can’t have had in mind to… marry the Canadian woman???? :O :O :O Or if not, looks like it isn’t takhib, but rather something else…like helping someone to get free from oppression?

  3. If anyone should be sentenced to lengthy prison incarceration it’s the Saudi judges who force happily married couples to dissolve their marriage and inflect four years of excruciating pain on innocent children of Mansur al-Timani and Fatima al-Azzaz because of tribal incompatibilities,

    Helping people in the motherland is a crime according to the
    Saudi extremist religious court system. Wajeha and Fawzia are human rights activist that would have been praised in countries where helping helpless people is an honorable undertaking.

  4. First of all, this is not the correct story. I know for a fact that the canadian woman is (who has mental issues) has been going on a rant about her husband for years. The Canadian Embassy as well as prince Naif have decided to leave this case alone..due to this woman crying wolf. These two activists were on their way from Dammam to Riyadh with the Canadian woman and her 3 children. They were trying to help her flee the country with the children and help her reach Canadian soil. When they caught them, the woman was asked if she feared for her life..and said no. There are so many loop holes in her story..that she is literally a joke in the country. Unfortunately the two activists are now being charged for helping with kidnapping…I would not take it lightly if my husband sought out help to kidnap my children. So funny how stories reported have almost no truth to them.

  5. That must be a terrible situation to be in. Having children and no way to feed them or take care of them because you have no money for any food or transportation or family or friends. I’m guessing at some point the husband must’ve been back in order to file the complaint.

  6. Norma
    Why did they ask her if she feared for her life? Would that have made a difference? Would they have released her and her children to go back to Canada? I’m wondering if the reason she said no it’s because she knew that she would be separated from her children permanently. I.e.: she gets that under the country and her children left behind. seriously, I’m really wondering why she would give such contradictory information. To take such steps is so drastic in a place like KSA and then to deny everything there must be a reason for that.

    When you say she has mental issues what does that mean? The reason I’m asking is because maybe sometimes desperation looks like insanity.

  7. “Takhbib: In Shari`ah, ”takhbib” means to estrange a wife from her husband in order to marry her.”

    Isn’t this kind of what Muhammad did when he un-adopted his son so he could marry his un-adopted son’s exwife?

  8. It remains ridiculous that the two women are sentenced to ten months in prison(!!!!!!) For trying to help out another woman, doesn’t matter if it is to help her escape, or if this woman is mentally confused, or if she had no food enough in the apartment.
    ( This is not unusual btw in Saudi Arabia, men go away, lock up the wife and kids. And if he stays away too long they run out of provisions, or there is a fire and they all burn to death because they can’t get out. (many Saudi houses have bars in front of the windows as well))

    Anyway, whether the woman they tried to help was mentally deranged, or whether she was in genuine need, and what exactely they tried to do for her, doesn’t change the fact that both the charge, and the punishment for Fawzia al-Ayuni and Wajiha al-Huwaider is total insanity.
    The ones who are most mentally deranged are the judges.

    I consider Fawzia al-Ayuni and Wajiha al-Huwaider to be heroic women, who dare risk a lot for another woman in a country where the rules and the judges are more deranged than any mental patient ever was.

  9. My understanding is that this story is about Nathalie Morin, a woman who has blogged for many years about being effectively held captive by KSA. According to her, if my memory serves me correctly, her husband is a government worker whose salary has been reduced to an insufficient degree because he is unwilling to divorce her and send her home, and therefore she and her children and her husband are living a life in KSA of poverty and she has vaguely referenced torture and other such things. I admit that this is a confusing story to me, but there it is.

    According to Morin, she does not want to flee the country, but wants some sort of retribution from the country and the proper legal documents to come and go as they please. In any case, Morin has written on her blog an apology to the two arrested women, and added that it was not her fault and that she did not want to escape. Morin is also adamant about the heroism of her husband and has expressed her desire to remain with him indefinitely, so I don’t know if we should really treat this story as one of a man dominating a wife and reporting her missing. This story is way too unclear and multifaceted to believe this assumption, and, as we all know, a lot of news coming out of this country gets distorted.

    Anyway, despite all of the confusion about this story and a few loose ends, it is clear, at least, that this is a bad situation that should have been rectified by KSA years ago. Whether or not the two women were trying to help smuggle them out of the country or commit some other “crimes” according to KSA law, it shouldn’t have come to this. The state of the borders in this country is regrettably absurd and often cruel. I hope for their quick release.

  10. I left the name of the woman they tried to help out on purpose, because she’s not the issue. The issue is that two Saudi women are punished for helping another women. How insane is that?
    The ruling is they incited the woman to rebel against her husband! How insane is that?
    The Shariah law is about enticing a woman away from her husband to marry her, bend over backwards so they could use it to punish two women who wanted to help a third woman.

    This is the crux of the matter; they don’t want women to come together and help each other, so they make up punishments for this imaginary ”crime” to scare off other women who might be tempted to help other women.

    What judge would punish a person for helping another person?????

  11. Aafke,

    I hope no one here is trying to argue to the contrary regarding the immoral detention of these women for what is clearly a charitable effort. And, as always, I respect your obvious concern for the people and find your efforts invaluable.

    However, I think our corrections come from the fact that the story seems incorrect or unreliable, and suggests to some that this is the work of her husband with the support of backwards law and cultural misogyny, when the biggest and clear enemy is the dysfunctional judicial practices of Saudi Arabia in general in the absence of such detail. Respectfully, whether or not you get the point across isn’t the only goal to an article; we must also endeavor to get the story right.

    I understand that her name is not the issue, but for anyone curious as to the true story, they can find her many documented accounts and get a better picture of an unclear situation, as she is not shy about putting her name out there and gaining attention for her plight. Regardless, yes, we should come to the same conclusion that this is an unfair judgment. But arbitrary charges and detention is not reserved for women in KSA. You have political and social prisoners of all varieties, and a great deal of them are men. As you said, the charges handed down to these prisoners, if a clear charge is given at all, are often random or tailored or fabricated, or otherwise completely immoral. It is not just a women’s issue. It is an issue of the people.


  12. But who they helped and with what doesn’t really matter, I think they were taken in by a woman who seems to be pretty deranged, but it doesn’t matter.
    They merely tried to help
    I don’t care about how deranged or not the women they tried to help is, that”s not important.
    This is so much bigger as whether the women they tried to help is genuine or a basket case.

    What is important is that two women are being given grossly outrageous prison sentences for trying to do a good deed.
    Like all decent human beings should act.

    The issue here is that two women are being punished for being decent human beings.
    Two women are being punished for being good people.
    This is an outrage against humanity.

  13. And who makes up such a ridiculous accusation: ” incitement of a wife to defy the authority of her husband”.
    Here we have this silly idea again that men should have undeserved ”authority” over women.
    Now as an idea it’s just silly and wrong, but to actually put heavy punishments on people on such an insane ground?

  14. Aafke,

    As I said, I hope no one is disagreeing with what you write, and I did not intend to make Morin out to be deranged by any means. If what she says is true, her husband is making an enormous sacrifice for her and their family, so I regret that the article is one that alludes to marital misogyny, suggesting that this woman was marooned without food by her husband, who, by her account, is also starving, instead of focusing its full aim against KSA law, which is the true evil of this story, and which has consumed both men and women in astonishing numbers.

    If the only thing you are interested in speaking about are the two women and their prison time, this vague and simple description should be the only thing written about, especially if you feel that the rest of the information is extraneous and its accuracy unimportant. Uncertain inclusions, as you can see by the comments, takes away from the importance of the story, which is that good people of both genders are persecuted and charged by one of the most shadowy governments in advanced world–and now we’re talking about women and husbands. There’s a lot of stories to be had on that matter, but this is clearly one of a country with disregard for human rights that will claim victims of either gender. If two men had tried to help Morin, I am afraid they would be in the same boat, if not worse, for associating with an unrelated woman.

    I will say it again. I do not disagree with the point you are trying to make. I simply offered a minor correction and an elaboration which should not detract from the bottom line of this issue. You and I agree on the message. If the rest is not important to you, I respect your call.


  15. Also, I got that last comment too late–I completely agree. One of the things I find most horrifying about this system is not just that they punish harshly without merit, but that they actually go through the trouble to justify it to their people and to the world with some of the most insane “crimes” you could imagine, and give it names that pacify some of the people.

  16. Why was Ali Alyami’s comment was not posted?

    Ali, you fat fingered your email address. So your comment was associated to a new poster and was held by the system. I just released it. Moderator

  17. Yes I agree that the point here is how this kind of ruling could be made. It is quite insane, but then again,we don’t know how the judges came to this conclusion..what I mean is, there’s more to this was mentioned the activists were with Morin when she was trying to escape. They questioned all of them.
    IF Morin had herself denied that the two women were indeed trying to make her “defy” her husband or whatever you call it, then the activists should not be charged at least this harshly, right?
    Morin would be the only person who could get them out of trouble by making a statement this was not the case.
    Perhaps, to protect herself, she had said something else, which led the judges to make this ruling.
    In any case it’s all very confusing.

  18. Nathalie Morin met her husband in Canada. Her husband was on a visitors visa, and overstayed the time frame for about two years, when he was caught..they deported him. Meanwhile, Natalie stayed with her son in Canada, but her husband was constantly trying to pursuade her to join him in KSA. Eventually she did, and had their second son. After the birth, seemed like she was overwhelmed, left KSA alone..and went back home. About a month of missing her children..she returned. She claims that her husband is a spy, but he is only a police officer. She claims that he changed his name from Albishi to Alshrahni, but anyone married to a Saudi knows this is something common. Albishi came from the people who live in Albisha, this is why they have adapted the name of their village. At anytime, one can choose to change it to their his case Alshrayani. She claims to be poor..everyone knows how inexpensive it is to live in a nice apartment in KSA. Even if she was poor, why does she choose to live in such filth (check out her videos on youtube). She claims her kids can not go to school, but posts on one of her many videos pictures of their first day of school.
    Her husband found information that she was planning to kidnap her kids, with these two Saudi activists. He told her he was going to his village in Albisha to attend a wedding for three days . When he left, the women quickly packed the children in the car, along with Nathali, and made their way to the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh..they were caught be her husband and fellow police officers.
    She was taken into a detention center, and there Canadian and humanitarian officials met her and asked her if she was fleeing from her husband because of abuse and what not. She told them she had no issues with him, and simply that it was all her mothers doing.
    Her husband dropped the case against her, and was released the following morning.
    Unfortunately, these two women are no being charged with attempted kidnapping, and Nathalie Morin claims she had nothing to do with it.
    Her husband has openly said she can come and go out of KSA, but not with the children, he does not trust her anymore.
    He has applied for a Canadian tourist visa to accompany Mrs. Morin, but is denied one because of his deportation.

  19. I have read all this about mrs Morin and watched some of her videos. Her mother, who has been campaigning to get her daughter out of SA, for whatever reasons, apparently contacted mrs Al Huwaider to help her buying food. Whatever.

    The point is that these women are considered to have committed a crime for trying to help another woman, which is insane.

    And no matter what mrs Morin might have told the police or the judge, she seems to have psychological problems, she can’t have told them anything very inspiring because the judge still could only come up with a lame, bend around, silly argument that they ”incited another woman to defy the ”authority” of her husband”. 🙄

    And for that ”crime” they are sentenced to 10 months in a Saudi prison and denied the freedom to leave Saudi Arabia for the next 2 years.
    Utter insanity and misogyny.

    Think about the impact this will have on any person who might want to help a woman in the future….

  20. I guess my feelings on this depends on what actually occurred. In the event that, as Aafke and her sources indicated, these women were arrested and imprisoned for trying to get this woman food and KSA just punished them, arbitrary criminal charges is something that befalls many in the kingdom.

    On the other hand, if Norma’s account is true, then it is more about unfairness specifically to women, since KSA’s extremely rigid custody laws most often supports the Saudi partner (and, in most all of these cases, the Saudi is a man), and gives them the ability to decide whether or not the mother can have any further contact with them. This unsympathetic system often makes something like international kidnapping seem like the moral thing to do, which is a huge problem in and of itself.

    But, in the situation that Norma described, it would appear that an actual, technical crime was interrupted. I hope what Norma’s account might imply is not true: that Morin threw these women under the bus upon capture. If all of them were trying to get to the embassy and were caught, and Morin played stupid and confused and insisted that this was not her will and that she was loyal to her husband, that would explain the strange charge, would it not?

    But as Layla said, this is a hard situation to understand and many things are beyond confusing. I hope someone can assist these women no matter what transpired, Morin included. KSA does not need fewer humanitarians, especially those who are willing to help women.

  21. If a real crime was being ”interrupted” then why weren’t they sentenced for a real crime?
    No, the only reason they had to make up a silly crime in order to be able to punish these women is because there was no real crime.

  22. I use crime loosely in this case simply to describe KSA law, just to clarify if there is any connotation that I necessarily think what they might or might not have done is wrong. Even if they were fleeing the country, there might be many excellent reasons to do so. I couldn’t say about this case.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to claim that either circumstance is the true one. I do not know; I wasn’t there. I just know that if there is no crime being committed, like you say, that this is not just a women’s issue, and that this is not so rare within the kingdom to have strange and arbitrary laws, and there are many excellent men forgotten in the prisons for this very same thing. In Norma’s story, where there was the conspiracy to commit what they consider a crime, I, too, would think it would make more sense for it to be an attempted kidnapping charge, but on the other hand the actual charge makes just slightly more sense to me (again, said loosely). If the women appeared to be bringing her to the embassy which might facilitate an escape, and Morin claimed she didn’t want to do this and sided with her husband, I can see how someone came up with the name of the charge. That’s all.

  23. TE, there is no law in Saudi Arabia, judges make up whatever they want.

    There can’t have been a crime, because they were not punished for a crime.
    Unless you agree that helping another woman is a crime being caught outside of the home with another woman because you wanted to help her with something is a crime.
    It’s ridiculous.

    And we will never know exactly what happened because Saudi doesn’t allow public records of their ”court cases”. One wonders why…

    So all we can go by is the ruling of the court which is a silly ”crime”.

    Clearly made up because they didn’t have any real ”crime”, like kidnapping, to accuse Fawzia al-Ayuni and Wajiha al-Huwaider with. So the judge adapted a male crime to punish two women for helping another woman.

    I think they wanted to punish Fawzia al-Ayuni and Wajiha al-Huwaider for being outspoken and fighting for women’s rights, and they took whatever they could make up. And to discourage other people from helping a woman in case she needs help.

  24. Well, there are laws, but I understand your point.

    And, again, I do not deny that this is a possibility and that it happened exactly how you reported and how you suspect it occurred. I understand the dismal state of law and punishment in the country, so I would have no reason to say KSA is above this.

    My only remark in this case is that, if you are correct, there are men who get punished for no crime or silly crimes as well. It’s just not an issue restricted to women. It is something that every person in the kingdom, especially without influence, could face, and it happens often. Women’s rights aren’t the only aspect that is controlled in this way. They have their hands in most everything, and they seem to target anyone who stands out too much in any cause considered threatening to society.

    It’s a huge problem with the country, but when we address it I hope we recognize it for the permeating threat that it is. If you prefer to look at it only through the lens of women’s issues, that is fine, though. I think we all agree on the basics no matter what story we believe or what motivation we think fuels the problem, so we should have no qualms.

  25. One of the biggest issue in Saudi Arabia is that the law is not codified. This is a very unique problem. Judges can interpret Islamic texts as they like, because there is no codified law. This means there is no book of law. In other countries they have books of laws, jurisprudence, precedents. All these things do not exist in Saudi Arabia. Judges just make it up as they like.

    This is a humanitarian issue, because they try to discourage anybody, man or woman, to help a woman if she is in trouble. This is an attempt to subdue women. This is a miscarriage of justice. Yes, they trample on more people and more peoples rights. Yes this is about control, control over women.
    But the article is specifically about the injustice done to two specific women. Not the whole of the country.
    This article is about two women, and how they got punished for an imaginary crime.

  26. Uncodified, yes, but laws still exist. I mean, you can walk into KSA and be pretty sure that some things are definitely, definitely illegal. I’m not about to waltz into the kingdom with alcohol, for example, or do anything that is in clear violation of Sharia. But, as I said, I understand your point in that taking these precautions does not ensure your protection.

    And just because a particular issue affected women does not mean it is a women’s issue, but it is fine. You can focus on whatever part of the story you want, or examine it from any angle. It’s up to you, and understandable in a story that is so unclear. And, as I said, I have no reason to say your interpretation of the event is not correct. It very well could be. But we may never know.

  27. As TE said, this is not a women rights issue so don’t twist it into one with your poorly written article.

  28. The article is about a woman’s issue. Why do all these crazy issues happen around women?

    1- The article is about two women.
    2- Two women are put into jail
    3- Two women are being punished because they took a woman shopping, or to the embassy, whatever. What it comes down to: they took a woman by her own request out of the house of her husband
    4- If this woman was a man and two buddies gave him a ride, nobody would have been put into jail .
    5- This crime, ”thakbib”, only relates to women
    6- It’s only a crime because they were ”undermining the authority” of a man over a woman
    7- So it is a woman’s issue

  29. I understand your points but disagree with your conclusion. But let’s not bother with it anymore–it is not worth going in circles. We don’t need to agree. The important thing is that we are all concerned for the women in this story.

  30. Been thru the sad Saudi legal system with my SIL ‘scase. nothing works in saudi better than a bribe and wasta. Initially i opposed being a party to bribing the judge just on principles but when faced with the fate of a family member in the hands of an abusive husband , one gives up the principles and gets the hell on with the bribing .
    I’ve had 2 run in’s with saudi judges and law and all i can say is there is no code to it, no rule, no common application and the 2 saudi judges whom we had the misfortune to deal with didn’t sound educated or wise, just apathetic and loony and i thank god we were well off and wealthy enough to bribe them and save our loved one.

  31. Radha,

    It is a terrible situation, but I am glad to hear that in your case you were able to save your relative!

    Also, I took a look at (forced the husband to translate) a few Arabic language articles on this story, and we keep reading that the unusual charge is only one of them, and that they have additional charges of kidnapping/smuggling. I would be interested if anyone could confirm this. As Layla said, it does sound like a testimony from Morin might somewhat alleviate the charges, but who knows. I also heard that they have a chance to appeal, but I wonder how often that ever works.

  32. In the US and Canada, the wife and those who help her, would be arrested for kidnapping PERIOD.

  33. Radha, thanks for sharing this first hand experience with the Saudi justice system.

  34. This is truly a women’s issue. The rules of takhbib only apply in 2 situations.

    1) Inciting a slave against obeying his master
    2) Inciting a woman to disobey her husband especially if such disobedient is aimed at making her leave her husband by another man. There are a few clear hadiths on this manner

    The correlation of disobedience of a slave and a woman, just sounds like ownership of the man over his wife. For anyone who understands Sharia it just adds to the long list of rules aimed at controlling women. So yes it is a women issue.

    Regarding the ruling. Clearly this is one of those situations that results from a judge taking liberty with Sharia. The laws are not codified in the country, so a judge who wants to punish these 2 women can dig deep into gray areas and use hadiths to come-up with a crime.

    Without codifications of laws, judges have too much power and the corrupt ones can demand bribes and worse invent crimes to punish people for spite. Which I think is the case here!!!

  35. MoQ,

    Oh, yes, I never meant that the crime itself wasn’t one with some misogyny in it, that much is clear. More that this sort of judicial nonsense, and, as you and Aafke say, uncodified laws, is the reason this is possible, and it has both men and women looking over their shoulders. Only those with influence appear to be safe.

  36. Adam … It would depend on the circumstances. Children can’t be kidnapped by a parent unless they have already been awarded legal guardianship by the courts. If there’s a bad situation women who helped a mother get her kids out would be heros.

  37. Wendy, nice.

  38. Wendy,

    This is true, and I hope they will be regarded as such, but I fear that they might find few supporters in their own country even if this were the case. According to many that I’ve spoken to, stealing a child out of the hands of a perfectly capable Western woman and running away to KSA is noble on the part of the father, who has “saved” the child from an un-Islamic upbringing and delivered him from the grasp of the corrupt West, and never perceived as criminal. This seems to be of a higher priority than all other prospects for the child. It is a dismal situation.

  39. There was a comment made earlier about her husbands salary being ‘reduced’ because of the wife’s situation..
    Did I read this right????
    Why would that have to be done, what their issues got to do with his pay????????

  40. Jackie, I heard of the rumors but I don’t know if it’s true. But if it is true this is why: it’s a mindset. Men are responsible for what ”their” women do.
    A woman is not only the property of a man, she is incapable of thinking for herself or making decisions for herself. So her actions, what she does, where she goes, what she wears, are the responsibility of the man who controls her.
    Therefore, if a woman commits a crime, like driving a car, her mahram (owner) who is responsible for keeping her in line and keeping proper control over his woman, did not do a proper job.

    If a woman is released from arrest, she is released to the custody of a man, and the man has to promise she will not do it again.

  41. Oh, Jackie, that was my comment. I admit that I have no idea how this would work, and that I’ve never heard of it happening before, but it is Morin’s personal claim that KSA is using these strange ways of punishing her family (although lately I think she’s said that he has been outright fired or something to that effect). We can make our conclusions on this and speculate why, but it is a very strange situation, and I think we all suspect there is more to this story. Who knows.

  42. I had the impression that it is not unusual in Saudi Arabia for a man to be punished when a woman under his ”supervision” does something really, really bad, like driving a car. The husbands of the women who drove in Riyad in 1990 got punished as well as their wives.
    That’s what you get for not keeping your subordinates under control.

  43. Of course they’re in jail! Harriet Tubman would have been arrested for what she did too.

    Helping “property” run away from their “massah” makes massah angry, real angry :)-

  44. Aafke,

    Really? Huh. I thought it came down to whether or not it looked like they facilitated her actions. Like how Al Sharif said her brother, who allowed her to drive, was incarcerated, but other male relatives were socially shunned. But if that is true, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world. I thought I read about a man recently who was voluntarily punished for a crime his wife committed. I tried to find the story, but I’m coming up empty. Anyone remember this?

    The only thing I don’t understand is this concept applied to this case. I’m not sure why they would dock a government worker’s pay because he refuses to send home a foreign wife, especially when, if they wanted her out of there so badly, I think they could’ve taken care of it themselves. Either way, a big mess.

  45. Moe Bandy, funny and sad at the same time.

  46. This is a sad story, as so many are. What is so weird is that the government is spending a good deal of money giving some women a fine education yet on the other the courts are denying the implication of that fact. In a relatively short time, women will probably be better educated than their male counterparts. What may have made sense in a poor country with a mostly illiterate populace, no longer makes sense. Women should be free to act in the same way men are. Men no longer as a rule know better than women.

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