Saudi Arabia sentences women for helping Canadians Nathalie Morin and her children

CCLA has for years been calling for the right of Canadian Nathalie Morin and her Canadian children, to be able to freely travel from Saudi Arabia to Canada, in accordance with international legal standards that are binding upon both countries.  We have also called upon the Canadian and Saudi governments to urgently investigate allegations of domestic abuse against Ms. Morin and her children, again in compliance with the requirements of international law.   To access our past letters to the Canadian government in this regard please click here, and here   To read our past blogs on Nathalie’s case click here:

Early this week, CCLA was contacted by Nathalie’s mother, Johanne Durocher, who informed us that two prominent Saudi Arabian human rights activists who are women — Ms. Wajeha al-Huwaider and Ms. Fawzia al-Oyouni —  were tried and sentenced by Saudi courts, with respect to a June 2011 incident when they took food to Nathalie Morin, and following a trial that has lasted twelve months. Ms Morin was not allowed to testify at this trial.

The charges were that Ms. al-Huwaider and Ms. al-Oyouni had tried to turn a wife against her husband, and had tried to help Ms Morin and her children escape.   We are told both women were found guilty of trying to sabotage the marital relationship (takhbib in Saudi law) – but not of trying to assist an escape.  Ms Durocher has forwarded to us an email from Ms al-Huwaider.  Ms. al-Huwaider and Ms. al-Oyouni have protested their innocence, claiming they had no intention of seeking to assist in an escape or interfering in the marriage, and that their only intention was to take food to Ms Morin and her children who allegedly were starving and had been locked up with insufficient access to food, while Ms Morin’s spouse was away on a trip.  Both women have been sentenced to ten months in prison and a two -year travel ban — which means they are not able to leave Saudi Arabia for almost three years.   Ms. al-Huwaider is a known human rights activist who has openly advocated for equality rights for women — she is joined by regional human rights groups in alleging that the charges and sentence were meant to stymie her gender equality activism.  Reportedly,  Ms. al-Huwaider and her supporters have claimed that in taking food to a starving woman and her children, she was acting in compassion which is consistent with the teachings of Islam.  See also a statement issued by Canadian NGO Muslims for Progressive Values here

CCLA is seriously concerned that Ms al-Huwaider and Ms. al-Oyouni may have been subject to prosecution intended to punish and prevent them from engaging in gender equality advocacy.  CCLA argues that gender equality is a fundamental human right recognized in international law and binding upon all States — it is protected in the foundational documents of international law which include the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which is considered to be binding as a matter of customary international law).  Further, Saudi Arabia and Canada are both state parties to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women which calls for the full and equal participation of women and men in all fields as being prerequisite to the welfare of the world (see Preamble), and calls in Article 3  for the equal protection of women’s fundamental rights and freedoms — CCLA points out that fundamental rights and freedoms include the right to freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, and freedom of association — all crucial and intertwined rights in the fight for equality.

CCLA remains seriously concerned that Ms. Morin and her three Canadian children are being prevented from traveling to Canada, which violates their mobility rights — protected in international law and in Canadian law.  CCLA points out that Saudi Arabia has voluntarily assumed its legal obligations in international law by signing on to the CEDAW and UN CRC, and has spoken out in international forums to urge other States to comply with their international law obligations.

Ms. al-Huwaider has indicated that she and Ms al-Oyouni will be appealing their sentence in July 2013.

CCLA urges the Canadian government to call upon fellow State-party Saudi Arabia to comply with its obligations pursuant to international law, and to seek to assist Ms Morin and her three children to be able to travel to Canada in accordance with their rights under international law.