Saudi Arabia: Drop Baseless Investigation of US Citizen


(Washington, DC) – Saudi prosecutors should drop an investigation that could lead to formal criminal charges against a US citizen living in Saudi Arabia for “disturbing public order,” Human Rights Watch said today. Carly Morris, 34, believes the allegation is linked to her statements on social media expressing concern about how Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system has affected her and her 8-year-old daughter year.

A subpoena reviewed by Human Rights Watch orders Morris to appear before the prosecutor’s office in Buraydah, al-Qassim province, on September 18, 2022. Article 103 of the Criminal Procedure Law, cited in the subpoena, authorizes prosecutors to arrest and detain a person under investigation.

“Saudi authorities are once again sending the message that anyone who criticizes even their draconian and discriminatory laws can be the target of arrest and prosecution,” said Sarah Yager, Washington advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “American officials must heed Carly Morris’s desperate plea for help and do all they can to protect her and her daughter from the repression of their Saudi ally.”

Morris told Human Rights Watch she believed the investigation was linked to tweets she posted in April 2022 in which she wrote that the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia prevented her from leaving Saudi Arabia. with her daughter, to perform parental duties such as obtaining medical care or making decisions about her daughter’s education without her ex-husband’s approval. According to Saudi law, only men can act as guardians of their children. Women cannot act as guardians and have limited authority over the lives of their children. Foreign women face even greater restrictions.

In August, The Middle East Eye reported on Morris’ case. While Morris said her ex-husband told her in May that he had opened a “slander and libel” case against her because of her tweets, the September court summons only refers to “the disruption of public order”. The basis of this accusation remains unclear. “Disrupting public order” is too broad an accusation often leveled against Saudi dissidents and others to speak out. Morris said she fears government officials may seek to sue her for speaking online about her situation.

Morris’ daughter Tala, 8, was born in Colorado. Morris and her then-husband married in New York in 2013 and divorced in Wisconsin in 2018. In August 2019, she and her daughter crossed into Saudi Arabia for a short visit between her daughter and her former husband. Morris said that shortly after their arrival, her ex-husband seized both their passports and Tala’s US birth certificate and refused to return the documents for several months. She said her ex-husband used the documents to successfully apply for and obtain Saudi citizenship for their daughter without her knowledge or permission.

While Morris said her ex-husband has since surrendered his passport, she said he continued to hold Tala’s US and Saudi passports and birth certificate “hostage”, and held the card family from Tala until this week. Without these documents or permission from her ex-husband as Tala’s male guardian, Morris cannot leave the country with his daughter.

While Morris retains primary custody of her daughter in Saudi Arabia, she said that without her daughter’s documents, she cannot make important decisions about her daughter’s education, facilitate medical treatment or benefit from the fund. alimony or pension established by the Saudi Bank for Social Development. service to which she would otherwise be entitled as a divorced mother of a Saudi child in Saudi Arabia.

Morris said that the Buraydah branch of the Directorate General of Passports repeatedly refused his attempts to obtain his daughter’s identity documents. She also asked for the documents at the registry office, where officials told her they were “not authorized” to issue copies to foreign mothers.

Saudi Arabia’s 2016 amendments to the civil status law allow Saudi and non-Saudi mothers and widows to obtain important identity documents for their children, including family cards, without the approval of a male guardian.

Morris said she started tweeting in April 2022 about her situation, but has since deleted her tweets. Human Rights Watch has reviewed Morris’ now-deleted tweets in which she identifies herself as a mother living in Saudi Arabia asking for help accessing her daughter’s documents.

Morris said she was summoned to Buraydah police station for questioning in late May. There, he was shown a “large file” which included “screenshots of [her] Twitter page” and screenshots of WhatsApp messages that Morris said were not his.

She said she couldn’t afford a lawyer and needed help with translation.

U.S. embassy officials in Saudi Arabia should facilitate Morris’ access to an embassy official and an Arabic language interpreter during the summons hearing, Human Rights Watch said. U.S. Embassy officials are also expected to help Morris obtain his daughter’s identity documents from the Passport Branch and Vital Statistics offices.

The Saudi Public Prosecutor’s Office is a major tool of Saudi repression and has been used to terrorize peaceful Saudi dissidents through various means, including harassment, endless summonses for questioning, arbitrary detention and prosecution in grossly unfair trials on false accusations. The head of the public ministry reports directly to the royal court.

Despite recent women’s rights reforms, including allowing women over the age of 21, like men, to obtain passports and travel abroad without the permission of a guardian, Saudi women are still required to obtain legal approval from a male guardian to get married, get out of prison, or get certain types of health care. Women also continue to face discrimination in marriage, family, divorce and decisions about children, including child custody. The Personal Status Law passed in March 2022 codifies discrimination against women, including providing that women must have permission from a male guardian to marry and, once married, obey their husbands.

Saudi courts recently convicted and sentenced at least two other women on similar charges for their peaceful speech online. On August 9, an appeals court sentenced Salma al-Shehab, a Saudi doctoral student at the University of Leeds, to 34 years in prison for “disturbance[ing] order and the fabric of society. On the same day, a Saudi court sentenced Nourah bin Saeed al-Qahtani to 45 years in prison for “using the Internet to tear up the [country’s] social fabric.”

“Saudi authorities have only intensified their crackdown on peaceful speech since US President Joe Biden’s visit to Jeddah in July,” Yager said. “Biden’s public abandonment of his promise to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for rampant abuses has only been followed by a more brutal crackdown, especially against women.”


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