The two South African sisters, Yumna Desai and Huda Mohammad, have reported Saudi Arabia to the United Nations (UN) for arresting them without a charge that was presided over by a judiciary, and the inhumane conditions of their prison system.
Desai and Mohammad moved to the Arab nation to pursue careers in their respective fields. Desai was a lecturer at the University of Ha’il, and Mohammad was married to a Saudi national.
Why were the South African sisters arrested?
The two sisters testified at the UN Human Rights’ Council in Geneva, Switzerland, where they submitted a formal complaint against Saudi Arabia.
According to Desai, the siblings were placed under arrest and sent to Dhaban prison, in Jeddah in 2015, seemingly out of the blue.
“We were never given an explanation as to why we were arrested,” she said.
Desai spent a year and a half in solitary confinement before she was formally charged with a crime — “unspecified cyber crimes”.
Her sister, Mohammad, was arrested for one year without ever being told of the crimes she was charged with.
Saudi Arabia laws against women
Saudi Arabia is one of the fewest nations that still practices oppressive laws against women. In almost every instance, a woman has to get the permission of a guardian or a spouse to do basic things like going outside or obtaining a passport.
The male guardianship system prohibits women in the Arab nation from… being human. Since the laws are set up to oppress them, Saudi women face systematic oppression and are left exposed to domestic violence and restricted movement.
It was only in 2018 that women were granted access to driving. Human rights organisations across the world have voiced out their disapproval of the laws in Saudi Arabia, yet little has been done about it.
Where are the sisters now?
After being incarcerated for three years, Desai was finally released. She was able to reconnect with Mohammad and two of her brothers who, at some point, were also arrested as an intimidation tactic to scare the women.
“I stand here today to give a voice to the voiceless, those detainees who have been physically and psychologically tortured, sitting there for years without trial, denied visits, phone calls, medical aid.
“Today we have submitted an official complaint on Saudi treatment to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.” Desai told the council.
The women, with their two brothers, have since left Saudi Arabia and returned to South Africa where they currently enjoy freedoms most women in the Arab nation can only dream about.