Saudi Arabia to address abuse of male guardianship system: media reports

FILE PHOTO: Women walk past a poster of Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during Janadriyah Cultural Festival on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will study how its male guardianship system is being abused, Saudi media reported on Monday, after the flight of an 18-year-old woman to Thailand last month focused global attention on the issue.

Every Saudi woman is assigned a male relative – often a father or husband but sometimes an uncle, brother or even a son – whose approval is needed to marry, obtain a passport and travel abroad.

Rights groups say the arrangement turns women into second-class citizens, depriving them of social and economic freedoms and making them more vulnerable to violence.

Without a codified system of law to go with the texts making up sharia, or Islamic law, the Saudi police and judiciary have long cited social customs in enforcing certain prohibitions on women. Many aspects of guardianship stem from informal practices rather than specific laws.

Saudi public prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb said his office would “spare no efforts in protecting individuals, whether women, children or parents, from unfair treatment by those who abuse guardianship powers,” according to English daily Saudi Gazette.

His office receives only a small number of complaints about guardianship, he added, without providing details.

The government communications office was not immediately available for comment.

Activists say many Saudi women fear that reporting abuse to the police would only further endanger their lives. They have called for an end to guardianship, which has slowly eroded over the years but remains in force.

Some freedoms have been granted under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ended a ban on women driving and eased restrictions on gender mixing, but they have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including the arrest and alleged torture of women’s rights activists as well as Muslim clerics.

Prince Mohammed indicated last year he favored ending the guardianship system but stopped short of backing its annulment.

The plight of Rahaf Mohammed, who slipped away from her family last month during a holiday in Kuwait and then tweeted calls for help from Bangkok airport, sparked an online campaign that ended with the Thai authorities reversing a decision to send her home and Canada granting her asylum.

Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations, is ranked 138 of 144 states in the 2017 Global Gender Gap, a World Economic Forum study on how women fare in economic and political participation, health and education.

(Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Backed to the wall, Cambodia’s opposition urges world to help

Mu Sochua, Deputy President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), listens during an interview with Reuters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia September 4, 2017.

By Matthew Tostevin

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Foreign donors must open their eyes to Cambodia’s “false democracy” and put more pressure on Prime Minister Hun Sen after the arrest for treason of his main rival, Kem Sokha, a top opposition figure said on Monday.

Mu Sochua, known internationally for campaigns against sex trafficking and for women’s rights, said the opposition had done as much as it could and would not call for demonstrations because it believed in non-violence.

Now the world had to save Cambodia, which has taken decades to recover from the Khmer Rouge genocide, she said.

“There isn’t true peace. There has always been a false democracy,” said Mu Sochua, 63, who is one of three deputies to Kem Sokha in the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

“The international community have been willing to close their eyes and play along with it. Right now all the red lines have been crossed,” she told Reuters in an interview in Phnom Penh.

Kem Sokha was arrested on Sunday and accused of plotting treason with the United States in an escalating crackdown on Hun Sen’s critics that has also targeted independent media and rights groups in the run-up to an election next year.

Kem Sokha’s lawyer had been allowed to visit him for the first time on Monday and he seemed to be OK, she said.

The opposition party was not calling for cuts in aid or trade, Mu Sochua said. But donors needed to make clear what they could do and convince Hun Sen that he would have no legitimacy from a flawed election.

“We are asking for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr Kem Sokha,” she said. “We hope the international community will come up to our expectations.”

She welcomed statements from both the United States and European Union, which have criticized the arrest of Kem Sokha and questioned whether next year’s elections can be fair.



But Hun Sen, who has pulled in billions of dollars in Chinese loans and become one of Beijing’s closest regional allies, has only condemned foreign interference.

“We can’t allow any group to destroy the peace we hold in our hands by being the puppets of foreigners,” said Hun Sen, 65, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades.

Mu Sochua said the opposition wanted dialogue with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party under the auspices of countries that signed and guaranteed peace accords in Paris in 1991: the biggest world powers, Asian powers and Southeast Asian states.

“We have done everything possible,” she said. “When there is use of force by a corrupt judiciary we are very vulnerable. That’s why we’re saying ‘don’t defend the opposition, defend Cambodia’.”

Opposition party leaders met on Sunday to discuss the next steps after Kem Sokha’s arrest, but with few obvious options.

They would definitely not call for protests, Mu Sochua said. Replacing Kem Sokha would not happen either.

“That’s exactly in the scenario of Mr Hun Sen,” she said, raising the possibility of an election boycott if Kem Sokha were not released.

“That would be a last resort. We cannot pretend that we will go into something that will totally destroy the party and we cannot be part of the destruction of democracy in Cambodia,” she said.

Kem Sokha, 64, only became leader in February after his predecessor, Sam Rainsy, resigned in the face of a new law to ban any party whose leader has been found guilty of a crime.

Sam Rainsy lives in France to escape a defamation conviction.

Parties were then banned from even having links to convicted criminals, prompting the CNRP to go around old posters with paint brushes to obliterate Sam Rainsy’s picture. Party officials are not allowed to mention his name.

“Maybe when Mr Kem Sokha is convicted we can’t mention his name either, but then who’s next?” Mu Sochua said.

“In the minds of the Cambodian people, we know who is our leader in our hearts.”


(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Robert Birsel)


Kenyan government suspends action against rights groups

Kenyan government suspends action against rights groups

By Katharine Houreld and Humphrey Malalo

NAIROBI (Reuters) – The Kenyan government ordered the suspension of moves to shut down two rights groups that have raised concerns over last week’s election, hours after authorities raided one of the group’s offices.

Police and tax authorities on Wednesday raided the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG), one of the organizations that has regularly highlighted problems with preparations for the Aug. 8 vote.

President Uhuru Kenyatta won the election by a margin of 1.4 million votes, according to official figures. Observers say the process was largely free and fair but opposition leader Raila Odinga has disputed the results as rigged.

In Wednesday’s letter seen by Reuters, acting Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i instructed Fazul Mohamed, head of the non-government organization coordination board, to suspend action against the organizations for up to 90 days while talks with the government are held.

Government threats to shut the AfriCOG and the Kenya Human Rights Commission drew condemnation from the United Nations, European Union and groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch who feared a crackdown on dissent.

The 90-day period would allow all sides to address “any outstanding non-compliance issues that may have led to the deregistration of the two organizations”, the letter said.

The NGO Board – a government-run body that registers and regulates NGOs – had said the two bodies risked being shut down for administrative and tax reasons.

Members of the targeted organizations said the crackdown was an attack on independent voices at a tense time in Kenya.

After a week where businesses were largely closed and many stayed away from work, life is back to normal across much of Kenya though people are eager to hear what Odinga’s next move will be. A call for a strike on Monday was largely ignored.

Odinga has said he will not challenge the result in court but is due to lay out his strategy later on Wednesday. Many fear any call for protest will add to the 24 already killed since voting day.

Some civil society leaders have said they may challenge the election in court.

The EU observer mission, which has broadly praised the vote so far, on Wednesday urged the election commission to publish all remaining forms showing vote tallies on its website to ensure the transparency and accuracy of the process.

“The timing of such information being made public is critical given that petitions relating to the presidential race must be filed within seven days of the results announcement,” the mission said in a statement.

Any challenge must be filed by the evening of Aug. 18.

Andrew Limo, an election commission spokesman, said about 2,900 of the 41,000 forms showing results at individual polling stations were not yet online.

“We call on the Kenyan authorities to give civil society the space and security to work towards greater democracy for Kenyans,” the EU mission added in its statement.

Earlier, Kenyan television showed pictures of the AfriCOG raid, during which civil society leaders challenged the search warrant. Human rights lawyer Maina Kiai asked why tax authorities had to bring three van loads of police.

“They say they have got a search warrant … (but) the search warrant does not name AfriCOG. The order does not specify what they are coming to do,” he said on television.

(For a graphic on Kenya’s presidential election, click

(Additional reporting by George Obulutsa and Duncan Miriri; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)