Saudi Arabia approves measure criminalising sexual harassment

The news comes weeks before the ban on women driving is lifted

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman leaves the Hotel Matignon in Paris, France, April 9, 2018.   REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo
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Saudi Arabia approved a measure to criminalise sexual harassment that carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a fine of 300,000 riyals (Dh293,800), said the Ministry of Culture and Information.

The legislation, which awaits an expected royal decree to become law, is the latest in a series of reforms that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has launched as part of Vision 2030 and comes just weeks before a decades-old ban on women driving in set to expire on June 24.

“[The legislation] aims at combating the crime of harassment, preventing it, applying punishment against perpetrators and protecting the victims in order to safeguard the individual’s privacy, dignity and personal freedom which are guaranteed by Islamic law and regulations,” a statement from the 150-member Shura Council, the formal advisory body to the Saudi government, said on Tuesday.

Read more: Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive from June 24

Shura Council member Dr Latifa Al Shaalan said that the anti-harassment draft-bill was “a very important addition” to the regulations of the kingdom.

“It fills a large legislative vacuum, and it is a deterrent system when compared with a number of similar laws in other countries,” she said in a statement carried by the ministry.

The ministry added that King Salman ordered the Ministry of Interior to prepare the anti-harassment bill.

“Harassment also violates Islamic values. In order to combat the social phenomenon of harassment, it was deemed necessary to enact a law that criminalises such behaviour and spells out its legal consequences,” it said.

“A clear definition of what constitutes harassment will help the Public Prosecutor investigate complaints and present suitable punishment for those convicted.”

In addition to mandating a prison term and a fine, the bill stipulates the potential penalties for a number other factors, including multiple occurrences of the harassment, harassment in the workplace, educational institutions, and home, if the accused has a position of authority, if the victim was unconscious, if the crime was committed during a time of crisis, accident or disaster, if the victim was a child or a person with special needs.