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Saudi Arabia criminalizes domestic violence

Saudi Arabia's cabinet on Monday passed a new law that would criminalize different forms of abuse at home and in workplace. Offenders may be imprisoned [Saudi Gazette report] for a term ranging from one month to a year or fines between 5,000 and 50,000 Saudi riyals (USD $1,300 to $13,333). For repeat offenders, penalties may be doubled. The new law also requires third parties knowledgeable about any violations to report to authorities. In addition to criminal sanctions, the law will also provide psychological, social and health care assistance to the victims. Domestic violence has been considered a private matter in Saudi Arabia [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. While human rights activists praised the recent move, some are concerned about the issue of enforcement. Women in Saudi Arabia are still subject to male guardians who may be the offenders. Thus, without the reporting of male guardians, women might not be able to benefit from the new law. Moreover, law enforcement and courts have to be trained to implement and enforce the law successfully.

Saudi Arabia has been criticized for its human rights record. In July a Saudi Arabia court sentenced [JURIST report] the editor of a liberal website to seven years in prison and 600 lashes after finding him guilty of "founding an Internet forum that violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought." In June Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] the EU's High Representative and other EU member states' representatives to condemn Saudi Arabia for convicting seven governmental critics of inciting protests through Facebook. Last December HRW pressed [JURIST report] Saudi Arabia to dismiss the criminal case against Raif Badawi. Earlier, in August, several international human rights groups sent a letter [JURIST report] to the Saudi Ministry of Justice seeking to observe the trials of four rights activists who faced charges of defaming the country's reputation, supporting international human rights groups and sparking demonstrations against the government.

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